art in the blink of an eye: Steffen Dam’s “Cabinet of Curiosities”

On a visit to one of our local art museums yesterday, I once again stood in front of  Steffen Dam‘s Cabinet of Curiosities for a good long time (click on the image for closer observation):

Steffen Dam, Cabinet of Curiosities, 2010

The name itself, Cabinet of Curiosities, is so evocative of an old time sense of wonder, with many objects gathered together for us to observe closely, to think about in terms of each other, in a way that we wouldn’t if we came across them out in the world.  This link to the past, though, and to the natural world is coupled with amazing craftsmanship.  Although Dam’s cabinet appears to be full of sea creatures and cross sections of unidentified objects and vials of colorful and mysterious liquids, it’s all made from glass, both cast and blown.  Wow.  I seek this work out every time I’m at the Chazen Museum of Art.  I’m enchanted and absorbed by it. I can hear the ocean as I’m looking at it, and smell tidal pools and seaweed, and then the mustiness of an old study with a table full of dusty fossils and old books and insect carcasses.  This piece, although meticulous and clean, elicits such a rich, multi-layered, sensory response. I really could stand there, rapt, for hours.

I’ll leave you with this quote about Dam and his work by Pia Strandbygaard Bitner: “On one hand he is rational and analysing, a technical genius and a perfectionist to the fingertips. On the other hand, he is inquisitive and sensitive to the poetry of life and the casual beauty which may be unearthed in the compost heap, butterflies in the garden, old books, technical drawings, maps, legends and the unplanned behaviour of glass. It is exactly this ambiguity of rational and irrational, precise and random, logic and poetry which constitutes the essence of his work with glass. Mr Dam’s works of art, are at the same time easily interpreted and impossible to decode.”



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