Joseph Cornell: Royal Academy

When I was a child, one Christmas I was given a gift which had quite a magical effect on me. It was a brightly coloured, small round box, designed to look like a drum. On opening the lid there was a tiny mouse inside with little gems for eyes and real fur. I think this object was a brooch. The memory has always stayed with me; the delight of the little box and the magical effect of what was inside it. This was the feeling I was reminded of on my recent visit to the exhibition called Wanderlust at the Royal Academy.

Joseph Cornell was someone who obviously didn't throw much away. He kept mementos and collected found objects, squirrelling them away in files. From a young age he entertained his severely disabled younger brother with objects he had made from this burgeoning collection and often presented them to him in boxes such as this one below which glitters and jiggles and is lined with mirrors.

Untitled (Beehive, Thimble Forest)1948

It's a shame that as we grow older we tend to move away from this rather childlike fascination with the minuscule and start 'thinking big'. We are so often sold the idea that biggest is best. Just think how big cars have got (even the Mini is overweight) and furniture too, in fact a lot of material stuff...including art, yes, art's got huge. Yet the bigger something gets the more it seems to lose some of its magic; we have to stand back to take it all in, which means distancing ourselves. In doing this we lose something that as humans we really like to do which is to use our eyes to peer into things and search for something that lies within.

This peering and searching is part of the lasting appeal of Cornell's work. Looking into these often small pieces creates an intimacy which I felt was lessened in some of his larger work. I perceived a slightly voyeuristic and obsessive element in his work too, especially when he reveals his fixation with certain women. However, I found these factors supplied a much needed dark element in these otherwise magical and innocent artworks.

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), 1945-46

This exhibition is on until 27 September. 

Joseph Cornell: Worlds In A Box by Mark Stokes

Here's an unusual documentary from 1991 directed by Mark Stokes. It's about the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) who had rather an extraordinary life. He lived with his mother in Utopia Parkway, Queens. There, in the basement, he developed a skill for making magical and surreal shadow boxes with which he would entertain his disabled brother. The film features Susan Sontag, Tony Curtis and the experimental film maker Stan Brakhage.

Just imagine living in a place called Utopia Parkway; that in itself I find somewhat curious. Americans sure know how to name places!

We watched this after going to the exhibition of Cornell's work at the Royal Academy last weekend, which was wonderful.  

De La Warr Pavilion: Towards an alternative history of graphic design: Suck, POP, bRIAN, Assembling

Now then, this exhibition was really energising as you can see below by the photos! Where am I? At the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill. What's it about? It's one room lined with disassembled material from four lo-fi magazines from the 60s and 70s and put together by Fraser Muggeridge. It's a sort of alternative graphic design history, collated from various sources of highly experimental but less formally trained groups and individuals.

This room could be viewed as a whole piece or you can look more closely at the art and writing which I did for quite a while...before I started leaping around. And why did it have this effect on me? Well, it energised me I suppose. It's so rare to see this kind of material these days, as Muggeridge says: "In today's world, it's relatively straightforward to do something that looks kind of good, clean and nice. InDesign is so sophisticated it almost does it all for you." I agree with what he says and I believe this cleanliness is affecting more than just graphic design.

On three sides the wall is lined with quirky and amusing concrete poetry, text, typoems and rough and ready graphic visuals which are humorous and playful. You can get the idea from the picture below. There are also four table top displays showing various collected material.

Out of the four magazines featured I was delighted to find out that one called bRIAN and another called The Hardy Annual were produced in the same college I did my Foundation course: Watford School of Art. The German printer, artist and publisher Hansjörg Mayer once taught there, encouraging his students to push the limits of what could be possible with printing and embracing the notion chance. Using the offset printing plates as covers, bRIAN was a publication which Mayer produced with his students whilst teaching at Watford in the 1960s and can see an example of the Hardy Annual below...I only wish I'd been at that college earlier!

This unusual but rewarding exhibition is on until 4 October 2015 if you want to check it out. 

Bexhill and the De La Warr Pavilion is a really good day out where you can combine art with the seaside but unlike Margate (see my post) it is quiet and low-key. I love the pavilion, it is such a stunningly beautiful building and perfectly suited to showing art. It's really pleasant sitting out and having lunch on the terrace especially on a sunny day; it's a bit pricey but the exhibitions are free.

In addition, there was an exhibition of Bridget Riley's curve paintings too (1961 -2004). In contrast I found her paintings cold and impersonal and this feeling was enhanced by the room being overly air-conditioned. Op Art is not one of my favourite styles anyway but her works do produce some extreme optical effects to such an extent that I started to feel a bit queazy. This one was very busy indeed and made me go quite cross-eyed.

Crest 1964