Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Museum of Joy: an etymology

One day I will build a museum that is the delighted child of every collection of the marvelous, a gracious bow to the old cabinets of curiosity in how they strove to show the great harmony of being, a grand new dance of entrancingexhibition...but in the meantime, a selection of some other magical locations in which the dust of fascination sinks slowly through the dark:

The Main Street Museum, White River Junction, VT

The closest I have ever been to this fantastic idea is its website, but my friend Sarah assures me it is as bizarre and wonderful as it appears: full of peculiar taxidermies and objects in assorted wonderous categories such as "Carbon; Color as a Hysterical Reaction; Cute Things; Flocking; Objects Chewed by Pets; Teeth, More Teeth, Things with Nail-holes; 'Things Made from Animals or Parts of Animals,'" etc... (from their Wiki)

The Museum Of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles, CA

Now, I have been here, and it was one of the two times in my waking life I have ever felt like I was entering into the space of my dreams. The exhibits range from Napoleon-inspired collages to alchemical clock experiments to superstition boxes; on the left, please examine a lovely mosaic made entirely from butterfly scales arranged with a boar's hair, viewable only under microscope. The place itself seems at first glance to be a small and shabby warehouse, but like all good dream places it is far larger on the inside, and the dark halls carry the uncanny sense that you had better look at everything, because even if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the same room a second time there is no guarantee that it will be the same...

The Museum of Love, now accessible only via the gardens of nostalgia and the internet

My father built this for his 40th birthday. It probably explains a lot about me. If pictures survive, I'm still too young to see them. This will be true at least until my deathbed. This most excellent image, however, called The Museum of Love and Mystery, by the equally excellent Jim Woodring, will suffice to show the spirit of the party. (In fact, if the "Dutch Uncle of Dreamland" wasn't there, it was just because the merry-go-round had other plans for him that night.)

This is probably the time to explain that my father taught me most everything I know about how to love the truly weird and beautiful. He also has a wonderful recipe for absinthe, a copy of which I was promised upon my 21st birthday, but the 2nd anniversary of that grand holiday is fast approaching and so far no dice. (It is, of course, a closely guarded secret.) A semi-thwarted alchemist, my dad had to content himself with growing wormwood in a hidden El Cerrito backyard and consulting books on alembics for proper distallation techniques. I did my bit by testing for methanol content, i.e. drinking a lot.

The Museum at Purgatory, a book by Nick Bantock

This is not the Museum at Purgatory, but rather a 15th century
illumination: 'Souls Released From Purgatory' from the 
'Hours of Catherine of Cleves' at the Morgan Library &
Museum, borrowed from the Wall Street Journal's website.  

I was not highly taken by Griffin and Sabine, although as a lover of artist books, arcane letters, collage, inventiveness and the macabre I have been told that my feelings on the matter are nonsensical and I'm just jealous I didn't think of it. This is not true in the least; I'm jealous I didn't think of The Museum at Purgatory, which is not only a cabinet of curiosity in the form of a book but also takes place in an ever-shifting city that I thought I had invented, at the age of sixteen, in a short story called The Man in the Orange Silk Shirt. Apparently there are multiple gateways to that marvelous and melancholy metropolis, as it seems evident that Bantock's Purgatory is the same bloody place as my unnamed citadel...(I will find the story somewhere and present quotes from the two texts side by side, but it will have to wait until after my laptop's quite done self-destructing and I can find my files again.) Anyway, this book gave me shivers of delight: instead of letters, it displays wonderful invented artifacts, from an imaginary geneology of spinning tops to a set of archaic altar boxes. It takes to the luscious extreme the longing inherent in books written on collections, from the section on The Collector in Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project to the cabinets in Bruce Chatwin's Utz: the reader's desire to see the magnificent object in all its strange and holy order.

The WebMuseum: Joseph Cornell

Here you may see collected images of the work of Joseph Cornell. Their physical forms are all over the place; there is no Cornell museum, although Robert Coover's The Grand Hotels (of Joseph Cornell) and Charles Simic's Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell are essentially hybrid museums in themselves, prose poems displaying Cornell's essence as surely as the bottles in the Pharmacy (left) display their mystic contents, the books themselves like the careful, crafted cabinets...

There are those you don't discover until you find that you have been following their spirit's leavings for the last two hazy decades. I did not know Cornell existed until I was already making things he might have loved. But without his starry influence, silent and spidery, would it has passed into my blood, this love for old encyclopedias, small krakens, tiny bottles, amulets and charms...?

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