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Friday, 18 September 2015

A love letter to museums: Joseph Cornell at the RA

Art and I don't always get along. As more of a history, object-centric person, I can find historical portraiture a little so-so, and contemporary art baffling. But at our recent visit to the Royal Academy, I came across an art exhibition that was speaking my language: the collages of American artist Joseph Cornell. 

Who? you might ask. Well, if you are a bit of an art amateur you might anyway. I like to think I know a little something about modern art, but I hadn't come across Cornell before. I was blown away in the exhibition by the casual mentions of Surrealist greats like Max Ernst and Rene Magritte who Cornell not only admired, but knew! Cornell is famous for his assemblages in shadow boxes. This cut-and-paste art works brought together Victorian bric-a-brac, historic images, tiny objects, maps, and all sorts of other materials to create wonderful mini-sculptures. 

Cornell was fascinated by museums and cabinets of curiosities, and it shows strongly in this exhibition. Books carved into storage boxes, pharmacy cabinets, and extensive labelling all appealed to Cornell's (and my!) love of order and organisation. His piece 'Museum' even plays on this idea: it's a box of tiny scrolls which need to be opened to reveal the treasure in side; the opposite of a museum where everything is on display!

Aside from these more literal museum connections, the exhibition, and indeed Cornell's work, is a testament to the power of museums. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Museum Association's 'Museums Change Lives' initiative: they certainly changed Cornell's. Even though he lived his entire life in the general New York area, through museums, books, and maps, he was able to explore the world. Cornell's works feel like an adventure through space and time, from the Medici's to the plants and animals of exotic South America. Cornell's work reminds us of the importance of museums to expand our minds and have the world at our finger tips.

Wanderlust is only on for another week at the Royal Academy, so you'd better get down while you still can! Find our more info here.

Also - though we can't claim this will happen to you on our visit, look who we met!!! 

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