Of Cabinets and Calendars

Hope everybody had a good weekend.

Part of mine was spent looking at new exhibitions in old cabinets in the Small Collections Room at Nottingham Contemporary as recommended to me by J at the start of term- thank you J!

Occupying the sort of space one might ascribe to a large wardrobe, this box room is appropriately situated in a study area and contains four cabinets from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries containing exhibitions by three contemporary artists.

I wasn't much taken with the lumpen artefacts of Des Hughes, but adored the eighteenth and nineteenth-century micromosaics (once a means of creating stable copies of a painting, but later fashioned into jewellery and trinkets for foreign tourists) as exhibited by Fabrizio Manacorda, which work wonderfully well within their current setting. Enticing the cabinet to give up its secrets with its wobbly, stuck or squeaky drawers and missing handles was all part of the fun, and magnifying glasses were provided so you can really appreciate the craftsmanship of the objects when they emerge into the light.

Trevor Paglen's covert military patches in the final cabinet were another interesting treatment of the cabinet's association with signs, symbols and esoteric knowledge, and his interpretations illuminate some mildly disturbing yet wryly humourous insignia.

Sadly, there was little information on the cabinets themselves, which perhaps would have given a greater insight into the nature of the artists' interaction with them.

I did enjoy opening up the middle section of the second largest cabinet, however- on a superficial note, and because I just bought an advent calendar, it put me in mind of opening the final window as you always know it's going to be something good! Inside was a miniature architectural space- a black-and-white tiled, mirrored enclosure, flanked by black pillars and reflecting both the physical space of the box room and endless spaces leading off into infinity. It was just marvellous, and my first experience of re-opening a cabinet of the old school.


Jenny said…
That's fabulous. Worlds within worlds, as they say. What a beautiful exterior as well, lovely laquerwork. It's a pity that there wasn't more contextual information for you, though, as I think that would really have enriched the situation for those who wanted to engage more deeply.
Stephanie said…
Absolutely. And historically, the frame of the cabinet, be it an entire room or a piece of furniture, was accorded equal status with the things it contained. It would have been great to find out more about their history, provenance and decoration, as well as the uses to which they were put as these ones had clearly seen service!
J said…
You're more than welcome - I'm glad they're still there! It was great to be able to explore in them, as usually they are closed or permanently open but behind glass. We saw a few in Dublin: two matching stone inlay ones at the National Gallery and the Fleetwood Cabinet at the National Museum of Decorative Arts (neither digitally available, alas) and we really wanted to look closer, but you can't!!

Do you think N.C. would tell you more if you contacted them? I understand this isn't the sort of length a normal visitor would go to (but then, would a normal visitor even get the significance?), but it might be interesting anyway.
Stephanie said…
Cool! There's a cabinet I really want to see in Vienna, but you can also explore it in a lot of detail online, which is great. I expect I will ask N.C. for more information. There's a little more detail on their website, but it only really tells you how old they are.

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