Sealed within the walls of the museum, history awaits the totalizing recall of the present. This romance still seems possible within certain galleries, even as the relentless drive for higher attendance continues to spur one star-architect-driven addition at a time. As these sparkling wings ascend and crowds swell, new institutions blossom, promising to illuminate areas of art and culture previously ignored. A nagging question that arises amid the robust expansion of the museum's operation: has this growing engagement altered the cut and shape of the history on display?
It was in this atmosphere of openness that the Brooklyn Museum launched their artist-curated “Raw/Cooked” series to showcase emerging artists based in its namesake city. Recent Columbia MFA graduate Caitlin Cherry is the ninth artist to be featured. Cherry created a series of site-specific installations comprised of paintings paired with wooden war machines inspired by the unbuilt designs of Leonardo da Vinci. Cherry's resulting constructions transmogrify art into ammunition. In the three works of "Hero Safe”, the paintings are locked and loaded upon the replica Renaissance weaponry, prepped to fire. The hybrid forms yielded by this fusion of art and war (Cherry describes them as “artcraft”) beg for further examination into exactly how and what it is we are preserving/defending in the cultural institutions we have appointed to the task.
Caitlin Cherry (American, b. 1987), Dual-Firing Trebuchet Artcraft "Virgin On The Rocks," 2013, Brooklyn Museum installation, Oil on canvas with wood and rope construction, 108 x 108 x 48 in. (274.32 x 274.32 x 121.92 cm), overall dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist (Photo: Brooklyn Museum).
By both battling with and blending into their opulent Beaux-Arts surroundings, Cherry's works achieve a strange equilibrium with the gallery space. The futuristic glass and steel entrance of the museum plays host to Dual-Loading Crossbow Artcraft "Chateau Death Row" (2013), in which a painting appears caught in mid-flight, suspended over a vitrine of Rodin's exquisite hand maquettes. Faced with the absurd flight of the canvas the depicted scene is relegated to secondary status. Yet in its allusions to Venice a strangely devoted art historical tone emerges. One sees the drooping peaks of the Duomo and a Pope-like golem figure with a lolling head (a reoccurring character in Cherry's work) surveying the scene astride a horse. There is a similarly strange reverence in the paintings included in Cherry's two other works, Duel-Firing Trebuchet Artcraft (“Virgin on the Rocks”) and Dual-Capable Catapult Artcraft "Your Last Supper, Sucker" (both 2013). Installed in corner alcoves of the museum's Great Hall, each is primed and ready to fire their own distortions of Western art into the renowned Beaux-Arts court below.
Caitlin Cherry (American, b. 1987), Dual-Loading Crossbow Artcraft "Chateau Death Row," 2013, Brooklyn Museum installation, Oil on canvas with wood and rope construction, dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist (Photo: Brooklyn Museum).
Although da Vinci's weapons have been understandably torqued for purposes of practical assembly, these mummified reconstructions are resolutely non-functional. Closer inspection reveals the inert firing mechanisms of these war machines. Could this be an attempt to arm an otherwise impotent past? By constructing pristine pine simulacra of weaponry never realized during its own time, Cherry creates an odd vision of a fantastic destruction of the rote Western canon of art history, carried out by its own imperfect agents. Cherry's historical aggregates serve as a fitting architectural foil to an institution that has greatly altered itself with the changing times. Like many of da Vinci’s designs, the original McKim, Mead & White master plan for the museum was never realized in entirety. Seventy years after the museum's original grand entrance was demolished the long hoped for “democratic” replacement was finally constructed, fulfilling the planned continuity of space. This contemporary re-imagining of the past shares much with Cherry's, both extolling the sacrosanct while outlining the surprising ease with which the canonical is both re-imagined and created anew.
(Image on top: Caitlin Cherry, Dual-Capable Catapult Artcraft "Your Last Supper, Sucker" , 2013, Oil on canvas with wood and rope construction , 72 x 96 x 120 in. /overall dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist / Photo: Brooklyn Museum.)