Is Everywhere: The Museum of Corn-temporary Art
Victor Margolin & Patty Carroll
London & New York: Prestel, 2002.
$25.00, 124 pages, ISBN 3-7913-2760-7.
Université de Rouen
Victor Margolin is Professor of Design, History and Theory at the
University of Illinois, Chicago. He is also the Director of The Museum
of Corn-temporary Art. Yes, the museum exists, it's in Illinois. It
hasn't got a permanent home yet but it will soon, and it certainly
deserves one. The collection acquired mostly by Margolin himself,
I gather, is unique. Divided into several categories such as "souvenirs",
"decorative art", "folk art", "commercial
art", "design", "icons", or "fashions",
if offers the most stupendous objectsgenerally smallgathered
around the globe.
Of course, the minute you open the book, the word that springs to
mind is "kitsch". But then Margolin states: "Corn-temporary
art is a new category of material culture. It should not be confused
with kitsch [
]" (7) Well, I am perfectly aware of the fact
that there are about as many definitions of kitsch as there are cultural
commentators, I can also see the point that Margolin is trying to
make when he deplores the tendency of critics to characterize kitsch
in "a patronizing or derogatory way" (7), but that will
not stop me from calling some of the objects photographed in the book
kitsch. In the best sense of the word, of course. As a postmodern
critic I do not worry unduly about distinctions between high and low.
Some of those objects may be called "corny", or "tacky",
or seen as the epitome of bad taste, and I say, hurrah for bad taste.
Actually, I have counted no less than eight that I also own, in my
personal "museum of corn-temporary art". Some of them could
also be called camp, need I add.
There are snowdomes, statuettes, exquisitely bad replicas of monuments,
gondolas, commemorative plates, inflatable toys, salt-and-pepper shakers,
shell art (the best), crocheted shoes, swizzle sticks, wonderfully
vulgar pencils, Tyrolean thermometers that make you want to yodel,
Spanish bulls, atrocious wedding cake figures, etc. My favorite section
is unquestionably the "Department of Icons", with many collectors'
items now worth a fortune: busts or figurines of The Beatles, Chairman
Mao, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, American presidents
(I would have been outraged not to find JFK), and, naturally, Elvis
and Marilyn. The Marilyn figurine is featured on the cover of the
book, obviously. Margolin writes: "As a small plastic figurine,
Marilyn Monroe, the 'blond bombshell,' still exudes the sexual allure
for which she was famous." (83) Indeed. The museum would not
have been complete without religious iconography, notably Catholic,
and indeed page 84 is devoted to this; but I myself would have featured
more. I expect Margolin has tons in his collection, but had to make
editorial choices. It is this sort of objects (saints, Marys and Jesuses),
along with Hindu and Buddhist iconographyamong other sourceswhich
inspired the postmodern art of Pierre & Gilles and to a lesser
extent that of David LaChappelle.
Margolin's text and captions are rich but straight-to-the-point, and
are followed by two rather good essays by Hannah Higgins, an Art historian,
and Hermione Hartnagel, a critic and curator. The bibliography is
excellent, notably the "kitsch and camp" section (although
Fabio Cleto's indispensable Camp is missing). Last but not
least, Patty Carroll's photographs are perfect. In short, Culture
is Everywhere: The Museum of Corn-temporary Art makes an ideal
Christmas present for anyone who does think that, yes, culture is