Thursday, December 21, 2006

Art Respite

Book cover"Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) was a self-taught yet highly sophisticated artist who is celebrated for his pioneering achievement in the art of assemblage, often in the form of box constructions. Cornell’s lyrical compositions combine found materials in ways that reflect a highly personal exploration of art and culture and that represent his belief in art as an uplifting voyage into the imagination. This stunning book is published to accompany the first retrospective of the artist’s work in over twenty-five years." (Yale Press)

The book may be beautiful, but I got to see the real thing yesterday at the American Art Museum. It is quite a large exhibit, including many of his boxed constructions and collages, in a hushed, blue-tinted room ~ blue being Cornell's signature color. My friend, Melissa, had already been to the show, so she alerted me to the box in the back of the room that lights up on the hour. Lucky us - it was 5 minutes to the hour when we arrived!

Untitled (Medici Princess)I have several books on Cornell, so was familiar with many of the pieces in the show, but seeing them in 3-D, live and in all their nuances of color, scale and texture was wonderful. The workmanship, the dimensionality, the care are all so apparent. They really had auras or vibes, each one. There was definitely something present in each one that was not visual.

My favorite part of the exhibit were the cases filled with some of his collections - ordinary cardboard boxes filled with his "stuff". Each box was labelled in his scratchy handwriting: "marb. col. rubber balls", "nests", "deadwood pieces", "cylinder images", "L'aumeir vagabonde", "turkey feathers", "nostalgia of the sea". My favorite was the Quaker Oatmeal container full of ordinary sand. There were boxes of spring, bracelets, rings. One marked "notions", and "mouse material" (I didn't want to know what that was.) "nostalgia of the sea" shared space with "plastic shells", "coral".

Like many of you reading this, I have collected stuff for many decades, long before I ever knew what I was going to do with it. I was just drawn to certain disparate objects. For many, many years it was a mystery to me, "Why am I buying this?" "What will I ever do with this?" "Why, this piece?" At first there were just enough items to fill a shelf, later a bookcase, and now several. I no longer feel bad about my stuff. In fact, I now sophisticatedly classify it all as collections. They are my tools. They are both the materials and the art itself. Each piece, perhaps a fragment of a once beautiful or precious object, being old, or found, or rescued, has it's own story, it's own poetry. It's my job to continue or to reveal its story and in turn, tell one of my own, which in the making, becomes a part, a continuation of my life story.

a small portion of my collectionThere is nothing Joseph Cornell did that I do not have the skill to do. Many uninformed people may think that his art is nothing more than well-made boy scout projects...little boxes full of junk. But you and I know better. Many of you reading this know just how hard it really is to take unrelated and/or found objects and images and create something a) of beauty, and b) with meaning. Composition is key, of course, but so is understanding, or emotion ~ translating your soul into something visual and concrete for others to see.

Art is our memory of love. The most an artist can do through their work is say, let me show you what I have seen, what I have loved, and perhaps you will see it and love it too. Annie Bevan


Deb said...

What an exciting post, Lesley. I, too, am fascinated with and love Cornell. I should have known you would as well.
I hope your holiday is joyous.


Melissa P Hackmann said...

I was totally wondering what the mouse material was too!?!?! I don't think I recognized it in the final pieces. I have bins labeled - rusty metal stuff - nature - beads buttons bones - but no mouse material... I might start one and make it my secret spot for my Cornell inspired materials... No reason not to be inspired by such a master.

As for all the stuff we can't help ourselves from collecting - I never know when it will be called to duty. When a random piece of altered paper becomes the key message or focal point of a piece I know it was meant to be! And that just feeds my attraction even more. Wonder what goodies I'll find in upstate NY next week...

Thanks for the museum date!


boltandfrolic said...

Yes, thanks SO much for sharing your art date and your take on it with us. I've always been drawn to Cornell's work too. After reading your post, I feel better about my 'collections' of this and that... most of it hasn't been 'called up to duty'; I don't know when it will be, and that's just OK.


LindaW said...

I, too, loved the Cornell exhibit. I am lucky enough to work across the street so I can return again and again!

I heartily agree with Lesley's comment that taking ordinary objects and composing a piece of beauty and intrigue is the challenge that confronts me, too, as I make art.

I also love collecting stuff and the challenge of "filing" it where I can find it when I need it and finding space for stuff is daunting. This week I am going to get rid of all kinds of unnecessary stuff in my life (clothing, books, household goods) to cleanse my life and make room for art!

nina said...

such a lovely, exciting post. i think we ALL lovely joseph's work. i once (naughty girl) reached out and touched a shadowbox piece, at the peggy guggenheim museum in venice. my friend even opened a tiny drawer. there were no guards to yell at us, to rush us back out the door...
i have mouse material of my own, now, in the studio. just discovered it the other day, in a tiny doll hutch drawer that had been left barely open for what? a year? inside were quite a few pieces of dried macaroni, shredded paper, bits of frayed fabric, two long pieces of chewed cardboard. i shook my head, left the drawer untouched, and walked away.

tricia mckellar said...

Wow! Thanks for bringing Cornell to mind! I saw a few of his pieces at the Art Institute of Chicago this past summer.... It made me a little sad not to live closer to more, bigger, better museums... Maybe I'll make up to DC for a visit soon!
raleigh, nc

LindaW said...

Your post inspired me to walk over to the museum today and revisit the Cornell exhibit. But I never even got to the 3rd floor. I got sidetracked on the first floor by the American folk art exhibit and William Cristenberry exhibit. Both are extraordinary. Every time I turned a corner, I got a rush from another piece of art. On my way out I was riveted by many of the contemporary portraits in all different media. I've decided to bring my whole family there this weekend.

ornamentea said...

lovely post. thoughtful and inspiring.

Laura said...

Merry Christmas Lesley!!!! Thank you for all the art and inspiration you bring to my life!!! I asked Santa to bring your new book for me, so I will be seeing lots of new inspiration in the new year!

laura duet
Valley Ridge 2006 student

annie said...

hey this entry...i would love to see this show...i used to feel like i had to explain my odd collections to others...not anymore...if something catches my eye...i don't even question may collect dust, and even go unnoticed for quite sometime, but somehow it magically shows up just at the right an unexpected encounter with another...

Plain Jane said...

Hi Lesley, thanks for sharing your thoughts and artist date. Happy New Year to you, dear creative spirit.