Creating the Wunderkammer in Contemporary Art


Through Tuesday, August 16, Film Forum presents the Molly Bernstein documentary An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell. More from the website:

Artist Rosamond Purcell creates collages of natural objects (bones, feathers, leaves, fossils) and found objects (distressed books, industrial scrap, cast-off objects of all stripes) and imbues them with life through her photography. Among her many books are three with scientist Stephen Jay Gould, in which her visuals and his words complement one another. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, one of Purcell’s admirers, extolls her ability to reveal ‘the hidden history of the world’ and to ‘find art in really strange places.’ Bernstein’s portrait reveals an artist whose work defies our basest materialist impulses and celebrates the beauty of decay, the poetry of destruction, and the ineffable effects of time – on everything.

We took a brief survey of several contemporary artists using a similar “cabinet of curiosities” approach to their work.

Industrial designer Franco Clivio photographs collections of functional, everyday objects to highlight the beauty of their craftsmanship and ingenuity.

From the Art Gallery of NSW on artist Alex Rizkalla:

The young Rizkalla also became an avid collector of memorabilia, possibly as a way of turning memories into something concrete. As a young man he studied the French existentialists and writers such as the surrealist Georges Bataille. One of the common factors here may have been his research into the nature of memory and objects.

Tacita Dean’s 2011 16mm film Manhattan Mouse Museum captures the artist Claes Oldenburg in his studio as he dusts and handles the small objects housed on his bookshelves.

Paris-based artist Maissa Toulet is inspired by Joseph Cornell and creates tiny, surreal worlds encased in glass.

Pablo Bronstein examines architecture and identity in his multimedia work, here looking at sections of a museum and its collections.

Steffen Dam was inspired by his grandparents’ scientific texts and insect collections. More on the Danish artist’s specimens:

Steffen Dam invites the viewer to relish the sheer beauty of his ‘specimens,’ but also to reflect on the meaning of nature as a mirror of the human mind and spirit. Dam has ‘captured’ nature in his work, but he assiduously avoids simple imitation of life; the artist shies away from what he refers to as ‘cheap tricks in glass.’ He seeks to strike a ‘balance between fiction and reality.’ While his work is in no way intended to serve as pedagogic tools, as specimens in ‘cabinets of curiosities’ often were, they are intended to engage the eye and stimulate the imagination. Knowledge about the forms, structures, surfaces, and colors of true natural specimens is not to be found in Dam’s displays of crystal cylinders, but another kind of knowledge — that of the visual poetry of endlessly varied forms — is freely offered. Dam’s little creatures, although frozen in glass, remind of how we read and feel both time and change.

From Mother Nature Network:

Pam Longobardi, ‘Dark and Plentiful Bounty,’ mixed media. Inspired by piles of plastic she’d seen wash ashore in Hawaii, Atlanta-based Longobardi launched the Drifters Project in 2006 and began making art primarily from marine debris. ‘I approach the sites as a forensic scientist,’ she writes on her website, ‘examining and documenting the deposition as it lay, collecting and identifying the evidence of the crime.’