Thursday, April 7, 2016

Memory Boxes

One thing I love about New York City is the sense of possibility - you can find something amazing any day of the week.  Of course the other reality is that you rush from A to B and don't go anywhere amazing for months.  A friend of mine invited me to an art gallery and I agreed,  because she had done the hard work - selecting somewhere to go,  and it wasn't too far away.   We went to Chelsea to the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, to see the work of an artist called Mark Dion.  I knew nothing of his work and had no expectations,  which can be a lovely way to arrive.

First we saw the magnificent and slightly haunting bird cage he has created  “The Library for the Birds of New York,”  which is cage large enough for 4 or so adults to stand in (it's limited to 4 at a time) and commune with the birds. The birds are real and so is the tree but it is artificially enhanced, surrounded by books.  The birds chatter on about their own lives,  completely indifferent to us.  It's charming and strange and the books are all about birds and control and now covered in bird mess.  They are tearing things apart to build their nests,  the birds are tiny finches.  We were hopeful of eggs.   It just works.

Then we went upstairs to what looked like a garden shed,  transposed to a museum.  Inside were shelves of boxes.  You could open the boxes and inside were memories - sea shells, and toy soldiers,  some had photographs curved by time,  and letters.  There were obscure children's collections - a box of plastic hippos,  box of beans and some with animal teeth.  There was the box of cigars my grandfather had in his apartment,  and inside were letters.  It was just fabulous,  kind and sweetly nostalgic.  The sea shells smelled of the ocean,  the small ornaments sealed against dust and time. They were all the odd bits of something that were important to someone once and now we don't know what to do with them,  but we keep them in their treasure boxes.   

This is my idea of perfect art - tactile,  experiential,  creating emotions and moods.  And not cruel or macabre.  I was afraid the boxes would be more American Horror Story at first,  but they are far more innocent than that. They really are memories in a box,  at once eccentrically personal,  but also part of all of us.

If you have time,  I strongly recommend a visit.   I may go back myself.  (and it was deliciously uncrowded on the ridiculously cold April day we went)