Monday, October 12, 2015

Cornell, belatedly

A few thoughts, belatedly, on the very fine Joseph Cornell exhibition (now ended) Wanderlust, at the Royal Academy.
One of the most striking things about it was the sense of how open to the world Cornell's work was. For all its apparently hermetic aspects (of which there are many), I still left with the sense that his practice was fundamentally centripetal, making connections outwards, and that too much of the work influenced by him has mistaken this for something centrifugal, making more and more connections among an ever-more tightly circumscribed set of artists and artworks. (Much of the later work of John Zorn comes to mind here.)
There was a certain frustration at not being able to interact with the objects. As wonderful as it was to see them up close, so many of them explicitly ask to be handled and manipulated that seeing them in the flesh gave the odd sense that one loses much less in reproduction than one would have thought: if you can't pick them up and move the parts around, it makes very little difference whether one is a foot away from the original object, withdrawn behind glass, or looking at a photograph or video.
Generally I found the non-box collages less striking than the boxes (with the exception of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther', which is very strong), and the films were excellent and refreshingly accentuated Cornell's sense of humour. The narratives he sometimes hints at were also intriguing. I want to know more about Berenice.

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