Sunday, November 25, 2007

Joseph Cornell at SF MOMA

Instead of using Black Friday to start my Christmas shopping, I went to the SF MOMA with the intent of checking out the Joseph Cornell retrospective. I was not the only one with this idea. The museum opens at 11:00am, & when I got there at about 5 minutes to, the line to buy tickets was already around the corner. By the time I got my admission & checked my shoulder bag, it was 11:25. The galleries were host to many families & many crying babies. Museums really are mass entertainment now.

The Joseph Cornell exhibit is excellent & truly comprehensive. It's also very large. The works are grouped by themes, though I didn't find this organizing principle very convincing. Works that are very similar, such as the 2 versions of the Pink Palace, end up in different galleries for no clear reason. Besides the well-known boxes, the exhibit contains collages, portfolios, films, graphic design work & even an amusing newspaper parody made for his family.

Cornell's work is very consistent in tone over 3 decades. There's a melancholy sense of the inevitable decay of memory, of the impossibility of preserving experiences & feelings. Taglioni's Jewel Casket (1940) contains artificial ice cubes nestled in a plush jewel chest. An accompanying text tells us how the ice cubes were meant to remind a famous ballerina of an incident where she was waylaid by a Russian highwayman & forced to dance in the snow. The whimsical & romantic tone of the story & the artifact made me think of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I did not have time to explore the Olafur Eliasson exhibit, but it's obviously really fun. It starts with an electric fan swinging erratically & dangerously over the heads of visitors in the lobby. People were lined up on the 2nd floor to enter a room chilled to 18 degrees Fahrenheit, containing a frozen car. The top floor is a playland of light. Not to be missed is the room that turns all color into grey values. It's like stepping into the black & white part of The Wizard of Oz.

I also had to skip Jeff Wall's huge light box photos. I left the museum feeling that I need to make a repeat visit soon.

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