‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice… Our February cover ties in with Katy Barrett’s feature article on the resurgent interest in the cabinet of curiosities, or Wunderkammer. In recent years, wonder has been revived as a curatorial principle or attitude, which has percolated through museum displays and contemporary art practices, as well as art fairs and dealerships.
We’ve transposed a mid 17th-century German trompe l’oeil painting of a cabinet onto the front of the magazine, then splashed on bright yellow cover lines to give a sense of contemporary contrast. I love the architectural arrangement of the cabinet itself, with each of its room-like compartments housing a finely painted surprise. The glossy surface of the shells is beautifully rendered; less luminous are the peculiar, miniature skulls that lurk close to the masthead.
The trompe l’oeil effect makes us engage with ideas of object classification. While the segmented cabinet suggests that everything has a discrete place in an orderly system, it looks to have been altered to accommodate those objects that confound its architecture. The tall and unruly cup that provides the centrepiece of the painting is the boldest example.
And then there’s the pictorial joke that, for all the bravura representation of materials and textures here, we can’t help but recognise that each object is actually crafted from paint. They have far more in common than they’re tricked out to appear.
The printed ‘magazine’ is a figurative offshoot from the earlier use of the word to mean a storehouse or repository. But with curiosity so much in vogue, perhaps the Wunderkammer offers a more interesting model: an array of articles with individual appeal, but casting rich and strange light on each other.