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Celestial Ash
at Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, California
Recommendation by Betty Ann Brown

Michael C. McMillen, “Asylum,” 2009, mixed media installation.

“Celestial Ash” features the work of four artists indebted to the introspective and idiosyncratic work of American Surrealist Joseph Cornell. The exhibition opens with one of Cornell’s signature assemblages--a shallow box of distressed white wood framing a reproduction of a Renaissance portrait--and continues with related sculptures by Exene Cervneka (the lead vocalist of the punk group X), Matjames, Michael C. McMillen and Gail Greenfield Randall. Brilliantly curated by Kristine McKenna, “Celestial Ash” ranges from tiny wall pieces (some of Matjames’ works are only four inches tall) to “The Asylum of Lost Thoughts,” a room-sized installation by McMillen.

The theater-like room includes several antique chairs, a bronze bedframe topped with two cement pillows, and a projected film wryly composed of vintage footage edited into the artist’s often humorous imagery. Both Cervenka and Randall arrange materials of personal significance--both natural and manufactured--in shadowboxes that, like Cornell’s, recall the accretion of memorabilia in altars piled with Christian relics. The exhibition demonstrates the always nostalgic and sometimes haunting power of what French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss referred to as artistic bricolage: the process of collecting and recombining significant objects to comment on the multivalent resonances of material culture.

Published courtesy of ArtScene

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