Sunday, December 09, 2007

pip pip for shadowboxes

My coconspirator and I went to MOMA this weekend. We ended up—as one always does in such cavernous cabinets of wonder—visiting multiple floors of random art. I touched some of it and oooh boy, did I get my hand slapped! It was a pool of water that I touched, one that ended up setting off a reflecting pool of ripples up on the projected digital mirror on the wall. I really wanted to touch it again. I mean really really. In fact, standing right at the brink of the ankle-deep pool, what I wanted to do most after being corrected was jump in and splash the security guard and get a whole beach party started in that stuffy black room of art and ridiculous restraint. But I, as they say, digress. I digress tremendously. Because small artsy pools of temptation were not what we were there for. We were there for Joseph Cornell and his small, symmetrical shadowboxes that house angels, constellations, and teeny ivory pipes.

Here, as a point of reference, is Adam Gopnik on Cornell's work: "The art under inspection ... has ... old French hotel ads and stuffed birds and soap-bubble pipes hermetically sealed behind glass, evoking vanished Victorian worlds of Curiosity Shops and steamer trunks and natural-history-museum displays of long-refuted principles. They ought to have dated; they ought to date; they are, in a way, about being dated. And yet something keeps the visitor locked in place, looking, and turns his mind to the warmer, though still not quite satisfying, words of romantic praise: haunting, mysterious, dreamy, sublime.... "

Why does it always seem the artists I favor are characterized as provincial or dusty or quaint in effete intellectual circles? Cornell built little windows of imagination. Art. Period. I'm not sure why we need to speak of nostalgia in the diminutive. I think his art is beautiful and the simple measure of that effect is in the oblivion of my singular I, the checking of one overblown sense of self, even if just for a few seconds. For the record, I'm all for art without irony, complication, or ornamentation. Huzzah for steamer trunks of nostalgia, old chaps!

Simplicity is the highest art we've got.