Above: Karen Kilimnik, Me Corner of Haight & Ashbury, 1966, 1998.
Below: Joseph Cornell, Untitled, c. 1953.
Image courtesy of the Artists, 303 Gallery New York and Sprueth Magers Gallery Berlin London.
Currently on view at Sprueth Magers London is “Something Beautiful,” a collaborative show by American artists Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik. Curated by Todd Levin, the exhibition features paintings, collages, and mixed-media installations that reflect the influence of the Romantic-era ballet on both artists.
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was an American artist known for pioneering the art of assemblage. Created from found objects, Cornell’s boxes often read like three-dimensional Surrealist paintings. He admired the work of Max Ernst and Rene Magritte, but claimed to have found their work to be too dark. His work was also inspired heavily by his beliefs in Christian Science, which he adopted in his early twenties. He never received formal training as an artist, but was influenced by American Transcendentalist poetry and French Symbolist painters, such as Mallarme and Nerval. Another motif of his work, 19th century European ballet dancers, comes to life in this exhibition.
Similarly, Karen Kilimnik’s work redeploys discreet objects in a quest for the romantic sublime. Theater and stagecraft have figured strongly in her installations, and her use of particular materials suggests the influence of Cornell. Often making direct references to Degas and other Impressionist painters, Kilimnik’s subjects occupy a nineteenth-century world: one of mystery, drama, and romance.
Anthony Byrt, in his review for Art Forum, refers to Levin’s conceptual approach here as a “bold curatorial statement,” suggesting that the premise upon which the two artists are connected is a precarious one. However, “Ballet aside,” says Byrt, “tangible links do emerge, such as theatricality, quiet spectacle, and ideas of feminine beauty, which both artists explore.”
More text and images after the jump…
The organizing motif of many of Cornell’s works is the window, which, according to the exhibition’s press release, “invites the viewer to consider interior and exterior views, and thus establish successive rounds of reality to the mystery beyond.” This play is made evident in the artists’s Hotel series, in which the viewer assumes the role of voyeur, glimpsing at the secrets hidden behind the panes of glass.
The mounting of the exhibition, like its Romanticizing contents, is evocative of the nineteenth-century salon. The deep blue of the gallery walls reference the color used by Cornell in the background of many of his assemblages. In making this choice, Levin may be asking viewers to consider themselves subjects, trapped within a larger Cornell box. In addition to the painted walls, the two-dimensional works are hung salon-style on many levels, allowing for myriad viewing points. Also included are bits of ephemera and memorabilia from the Royal National Ballet, which Levin included to contextualize and enhance the installation. In an interview with Wallpaper Magazine, Levin explained that the idea for this show came to him “as a complete vision,” further evidenced by the decision to play ballet music in the space as part of the sensory experience. “Keeping with the spirit of the artists on show,” he explained, “the beauty of this exhibition is aptly in the details.”
In an interview with Whitehot Magazine, Levin expanded upon his methodology: “For me, a curatorial idea has to remain highly specific, but within that one can go very, very deep and present a great deal of various kinds of information. I happen to find this approach lively, and I hope other people will too. I know it’s not the most direct or practical way of organizing visual art exhibitions, but this methodology interests me.”
Cornell lived with his family in Queens, New York, and spent much of his life to caring for his brother, who suffered from cerebral palsy. According to the show’s press release,”Created in isolation, his works transport viewers to worlds far beyond the mundane realities of his urban, terrestrial life.” Cornell was a passionate collector of postage stamps, old photographs, Victorian engravings and nineteenth-century traveller guidebooks and memoirs. He often described himself as an “armchair voyager,” cataloguing every item in his basement studio. He assembled these nostalgic objects into elaborate decorative boxes, creating a poetic theater of memory. The Romantic ballet offered him the fantasy and escape he sought from his bleak surroundings. Celebrating the ideal of female beauty, Cornell was captivated by the renowned ballerinas of the time, and created these ephemeral boxes for them.
In addition to his assemblage boxes, the artist also dabbled in experimental film. He showed these films in the early 1930s, but stopped doing so after an outburst from Salvador Dali during an opening at Julien Levy Gallery in 1936. Dali reportedly saw one of Cornell’s films and suggested that he stick to making boxes. The artist continued to make films until his death in 1972, but rarely screened them in public.
Cornell’s recent solo shows have included “Andromeda Hotel: The Art of Joseph Cornell” at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah NY, and “Joseph Cornell – Boxes and Collages” at L&M Arts, New York, as well as the traveling exhibition “Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination” which was displayed at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. His work is in the public collections of the Tate Modern, London; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; MoMA, New York, SFMOMA, San Francisco; MOCA, Los Angeles; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Kilimnik (b. 1955) lives and works in Phildephia, PA. She received her education at Temple University, and has recently had solo shows at 303 Gallery, New York; Serpentine Gallery, London; Galerie Sprueth Magers London and Cologne; Galerie Eva Persenhuber, Zurich; Hauser & Wirth Zurich, and Gallery Side 2, Tokyo.
Installation view. Image credited as above.
Joseph Cornell, Apotheosis Penny Arcade, 1965. Photograph by Kris Emmerson, image courtesy of private collection.
Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Grand Hotel), c. 1950s. Photograph by Kris Emmerson, image courtesy of private collection.
Karen Kilimnik, Aurora + assistant spreading happiness + light, 2009. Image courtesy of the Artist, 303 Gallery New York and Sprueth Magers Gallery Berlin London.
Karen Kilimnik, Snow Princess Invades Apartment in Muffs and Furs, 1989. Photograph by Lee Turner, image courtesy of the Artist, 303 Gallery New York and Sprueth Magers Gallery Berlin London.
Karen Kilimnik, Two Dancers on a stage, Paris, 2004. Image courtesy of the Artist, 303 Gallery New York and Sprueth Magers Gallery Berlin London.
– J. Lindblad
Exhibition Site [Sprueth Magers]
Joesph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik [Art Forum]
Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik at Sprueth Magers [Wallpaper]
Opening a Time Capsule: An Interview with Todd Levin [WhiteHot Magazine]
Art [Hearts] Dance: Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik Come Together in a Romantic Ballet [Huffington Post]
Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik, Sprueth Magers London [The Arts Desk]