Back to Book Reviews

Back to Cercles

Culture 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.

Georges-Claude Guilbert
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 objects—generally small—gathered 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 iconography—among other sources—which 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 everywhere.


All rights are reserved and no reproduction from this site for whatever purpose is permitted without the permission of the copyright owner. Please contact us before using any material on this website.