Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik at Spruth Magers
American artists Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) and Karen Kilimnik (1955- ) aren’t the most obvious of pairings, but then again Spruth Magers isn’t the sort of gallery to do things by the norm either. For the first time, a selection of Cornell’s assembled box sculptures and Kilimnik loose-brushed paintings are sharing wallspace in the gallery’s London outpost, highlighting that they are more similar than one would have thought.
Despite having never met, Cornell and Kilimnik share an uncanny number of interests, probably due to their highly introverted characters. Cornell, whose shyness meant that he rarely left his home state of New York, described himself as an ’armchair voyager’, travelling to other countries and even centuries simply via his imagination. Works in his untitled hotel series were assembled solely with ephemera like French newsprint and 19th- century illustrations, gathered over years of compulsive collecting, and not from actually having been there.
Similarly, Kilimnik’s depictions of European architecture (another passion she shared with Cornell) - as seen in drawing rooms, stately chateaux and grand palazzos - were created without ever visiting them.
The entire gallery has been transformed into an extension of the artists’ minds. Both artists were also fascinated with the myths of the heavens and the cosmos, and passionately idealized 19th-century ballet. Todd Levin, the show’s New York-based curator, also borrowed artefacts, such as costume pieces, photographs and programmes from the Royal Ballet School, to give visitors a glimpse into the world that both artists idolised.
Levin, who works with galleries and private clients, developed the concept from over 20 years of knowing Cornell, Kilimnik and their work. ’The idea for the entire installation - the glitter, the blue walls, came to me as a complete vision,’ he explained over the strains of ballet music being played in the space. Keeping with the spirit of the artists on show, the beauty of this exhibition is aptly in the details.