Channelling Joseph Cornell

Left: Joseph Cornell’s Untitled (Soap Bubble Set), 1936; Right: Michael Jones McKean’s “Young Saints and Garden,” 2009

Questioning the 2-D or 3-D-ness of something may seem arbitrary; Really it’s up to the artist. But when the artist works both ways, how does he or she decide? Take a look at Joseph Cornell, the famous assemblage artist. While he’s best known for his boxes that contained arrangements of objects, photos and Victorian bric-a-brac, his works on paper similarly combined elements both formal and surreal. It was his move to the 3-Dimensional world, however, that elevated and solidified his status as an artist.

Working in a similar vein is Michael Jones McKean, whose new exhibition, “Rites and Dust,” opens this Friday at the Horton Gallery in Chelsea. Like Cornell, the textural and tactile quality of the objects he uses is integral to the work as a whole. Take the example above, “Young Saints and Garden,” a recent work. While the pyramid structure would readily translate just as effectively to paper, the physical presence of the hair and of course the weight of the clay takes this box somewhere it couldn’t hope to go if it were limited to a flat surface. And whether you appreciate McKean’s visual sensibilities or not, you can at least appreciate the fact that he has clearly learned from the masters.