What do Wild Turkey, Grey Goose, Old Crow, Redbreast, Kentucky Owl, Eagle Rare, Blue Duck, Famous Grouse, Captain Morgan Parrot Bay, and Black Swan have in common?
They are all bottles of liquor available at Mark Dion’s Society of Amateur Orthithologists in Emscherkunst, Germany. Birds of Feather:Joseph Cornell’s Homage to Juan Gris just opened at the Met Museum. The museum had a “Cultural Sunday at the Met” featuring contributions by the curator of the show, a professor of art history and an artist. You might ask what does Juan Gris, specifically the painting “Man In A Cafe” have to do with Joseph Cornell and his boxes featuring the bird, cockatoo?
The curator, Stephanie D’Alessandro and the art historian, Marci Kwon linked Cornell’s naming of the boxes, as well as Cornell’s use of shadow, black lines, bits of a paper reproductions of the Gris’s painting and newspaper collage as a direct inspiration. These “jewel box exhibitions” called dossier exhibitions are a new kind of small, intimate show, the Metropolitan Museum will be launching in the coming years.
“You don’t get to play with the balls, cords, rings, etc. in a Joseph Cornell box. In my work you explore, probe, sit, read, and poke around. It drives Museum curators crazy.” Mark Dion in his opening remarks on Sunday.
Dion’s work, “Memory Box” pictured above, is based on the tar paper sheds people have in their backyards filled with broken garden pots, disused shovels, busted barbecues, and forgotten bits and pieces. Visitors are invited to enter, open the boxes, which Dion has collected from all over the world, and explore… the boxes hold photographs, prints, clay pipes, artifacts, watch parts, even one filled with 6 months of Dion’s junk mail.
In Library for Birds, real birds (canaries and zebra finches) co-habitate with books, ephemera, objects, pictures of “bird” people like Rachel Carson, Alfred Hitchcock, Edgar Allan Poe, and Roger T. Peterson. Dion’s library has branches, the tree has branches = tree of knowledge.
Dion told an interesting story about the origins of the Amateur Ornithologists Club in Germany. He was in Germany, looking for a site for a new work on bitter cold day; in the distance he saw an odd looking structure with smoke coming out of the chimney. He entered and found that this place (it was 9 am) was the a hang out for fisherman. Inside the walls were a deep amber-color from years of smoking. And early in the morning the club members were guys were downing schnapps. Dion decided if there could be a fisherman’s club, there could also be an ornithologists club. He used a former gas tank to create the observatory station.
This club has optics, watercolors, books and a “bar” which features bottles of liquor whose brand name must contain the name of a bird.
According to Dion, at one time, Folkestone in the UK was a prosperous and desired town. Today, almost everyone in the town hates the seagulls – the Mediterranean Gull, found in larger numbers here than in any other part of the UK. People in the town have reported patients in the Furness General Hospital being kept awake by the gulls, a man reported a gull stole his sandwich while sitting on a park bench, as well as many people reporting gulls attacking them on different parts of their body. In response Dion created The Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit. “The mobile unit functions as a clearing house for information about the evolution, ethnology, natural history, environmental status and folklore of gulls.” Dion Why are birds so important to Dion? Birds tell us about habitat disruption, history, geography, chemistry, literature, biology, ecology, environmental damage. Birds are the key to our world,
Birds of a Feather:
Joseph Cornell’s Homage to Juan Gris
February 4, 2018, Met Museum, 2pm
Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Modern Art and Curator in Charge of the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Met
Mark Dion, artist
Marci Kwon, Assistant Professor, Art History, Stanford University