Monday, July 2, 2012

Curiosity Cabinets

It's not that I have enough to do already. This summer I'm tying up loose ends: making two self-published books & two artist's books, preparing for a solo exhibition in August and a big group show in November, learning encaustics, video, and experimenting with glass and cyanotypes, checking out over 50 books on library loan (and the summer is only half done), and applying for more exhibitions and grants. All of a sudden, I now want to take a furniture making class and learn how to make my own curiosity cabinet.

As part of my interlibrary loan catch-up list, I checked out Patrick Mauriès' Cabinets of Curiosity last week. I knew a lot of the early history from my initial wunderkammer research five years ago and was mainly interested in the last chapter. It focused on the last 100 years.

It was here that I discovered the Chateâu d'Oiron which will now be on my must visit before dying list (though the noise when clicking on the link nearly killed me before I did see the building). It is an old Renaissance house that is given up to 20-21st century interpretations of cabinets of curiosity. Christian Boltanski installed this as a portrait gallery (but rather than the owner's family and relatives, he used London schoolchildren).

Christian Boltanski at Chateâu d'Oiron

I was also drawn to Natasha Nicholson's cabinet containing her person mythology. Her website shows a more adequate representation of scale (it's not miniature!) and details. I could imagine making something like this if I lived in a house where I would never move.

Natasha Nicholson, Cabinet of Curiosities, 2000

Finally, Alistair McAlpine's antique shop turned wunderkammer is also fascinating. According to Mauriès, "McAlpine is a British collector who is fascinated by everything: classical sculpture, Australian minerals, a dinosaur egg, stone age flints, Egyptian canopic jars, dried crocodiles, etc. There is no theme to his collection and he lives with it as part of his daily existence."

Alistair McAlpine's Curiosity Cabinets

I predict there will be more about this topic as I am about to read Lawrence Weschler's Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Prolonged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology a mere six months after purchasing it.

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