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The FLAG Art Foundation opens 'Dime-Store Alchemy'
Mark Dion, Travels of William Bartram, 2008.

NEW YORK, NY.- The FLAG Art Foundation presents Dime-Store Alchemy, curated by FLAG’s Associate Director Jonathan Rider, from June 5-August 17, 2018. The exhibition features 24 contemporary artists who elevate everyday, often forgotten items through the framing device of cabinets, shelving, and containers. Working within the broader legacy of Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), these artworks, and the safeguarded object they contain, address issues of identity, memory, time, and value.

The title of the exhibition references Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic’s 1994 book of short prose. Having never met the artist, Simic reflects on eight of the Cornell’s’ dreamlike assemblages, combining his personal experiences, musings, and literary references into an ode on the artist’s beguiling universe. Celebrated for his collages, films, and box constructions, Cornell scoured his beloved New York City’s secondhand shops and flea markets for art-making materials. The artist’s vast secondhand treasury, posthumously acquired by the Archives of American Art, includes “tiny lobsters and dolls, feathers, trinkets, key chains, and plastic charms, to say nothing of boxes of Christmas angel ornaments. Shells there are in abundance, and of course clay pipes, fragments of colored glass, and paper and cork balls…hundreds of rings of all description-metal rings, plastic rings, drapery rings, and car-key rings, some of which still have the price tags on them.”1

Through the simple act of placing an object on a shelf, coatrack, into a cabinet, or even a cardboard box, each artist in the exhibition alchemically transforms the most commonplace of content into talisman, and their containers become reliquaries. Portia Munson’s room-sized cabinet of curiosities Pink Project Bedroom, 2011, includes innumerable saccharine pink products (collected over 25 years) designed to appeal to girls and women. Assembled en masse around a child’s four-poster bed, Pink Project Bedroom seduces, repulses, and shines a hot-pink light on nostalgia and consumerism. Tony Feher (1956-2016) similarly magnifies discarded objects, in the case of his Untitled, 2003, a single-file line of plastic bottles topped with a spectrum of brightly-colored caps. Partially filled with tap water and suspended from the ceiling, the piece reminded Feher of “refugees fleeing by land or by sea.”2 Curtis Talwst Santiago’s Deluge IX, 2018, carries a similar undercurrent of displacement and features a miniature life preserver adrift at sea, with presumably no one left to save. Created inside reclaimed silver and velvet jewelry boxes, Santiago’s intimate dioramas pointedly address issues of race, violence, and the contemporary diasporic experience.

Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled, 2015, creates a self-contained world inside a seemingly charred box, with repeated photographs of living room furnishings—couches, lamps, and pillows—situated amongst a cluster of twigs. Here, Fecteau nods to one of Cornell’s formal techniques in which variously sized reproductions of the same image are used to create a disquieting echo. Sophie Calle’s The Birthday Ceremony (1983), 1997, uses the artist’s 30th birthday as a diaristic marker of her own mortality. Calle says, “On my birthday I always worry that people will forget me. In 1980, to relieve myself of this anxiety, I decided that every year, if possible on 9 October, I would invite to dinner the exact number of people corresponding to my age, including a stranger chosen by one of my guests. I did not use the presents received on these occasions. I kept them as tokens of affection.” The Birthday Ceremony functions like a self-portrait behind glass. The objects—removed from their ordinary or intended use—are evidence of Calle's relationships, and are a poignant reminder of the value and magic that occurs in the act of collecting.

1 Estill Curtis (Buck) Pennington, “Joseph Cornell: Dime Sore Connoisseur,” Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1983, pp. 13-20.
2 Felshin, Nina. “A Personal Remembrance of Sculptor Tony Feher.” Hyperallergic. June 28, 2016. Online.

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