Subtitled “Objects for a Wunderkammer From 16th to 19th Century,” this display of antique items—opulent and bizarre, natural and crafted—isn’t the normal Soho gallery fare. In fact, if they weren’t quite so peculiar, the pregnant ivory female nude (with removable fetus) in a tiny casket, the meticulously deceptive anamorphic swirl, and the three-way lenticular image (two saints, one holy dove) might be more at home at the Frick or the Met, as would most of the other exquisitely carved, inlaid, enameled, and gilded objects. Together with two huge narwhal tusks, a Spice Islands barge made of cloves, a New Guinea Asmat skull, an emu egg, and more, this is a delectable assortment of the precious and the strange. It’s also a morbid apparition from bygone ages of exploration, colonization, rationalization, and plunder. Scattered with references to skulls, scythes, skeletons, and other memento mori (carved worms decompose a small Janus head), its insidious theme is pure Vanitas. Locating the origins of the history of collecting in a craving to possess oddities and exotica, the show unintentionally positions the curiosity cabinet as a symptom of the culpable past. So consider this collection a holdover—more a Pandora’s box than a holiday treat. Maybe Father Time will finally be appeased.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 28, 2004