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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

JIM COGSWELL'S ARTS AND ANTIQUITIES, by Lois Kane

Collaged images by Jim Cogswell at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, July 2017.

Many of the huge windows at the University Museum of Modern Art and the Kelsey Museum look like they've been attacked, top to bottom, by a child with a truckload of giant stickers.

That is sort of what happened. U-M art professor Jim Cogswell seems to have retained a child's ability for non-linear thinking, a teenager's delight in desecration, and an adult's profound intellect. Let loose with permission of the museums, he has spent the last five years creating a timeless epic with a quixotic logic based on objects ranging from the antiquities of the Kelsey through modern icons at the UMMA.

In June, Jim led 100 or so people on a tour of the windows, the objects on the other side of the windows, the stickers on the windows, the stories, and interpretations of the stories.

I've known Jim a while. I knew him as a kind, funny, imaginative, generous, person who made art. That day, it seemed as if the art made him. He is an awesome inspiring modern day Homer of the visual arts. He talks in riddles and rhymes, too, as he explains the reasoning, or suspension of reasoning, behind the thousands of separate images that merge in a gigantic whole.

Maybe this is a Greek goddess with a horse's head and wheels instead of feet; it's hard to be sure because it's upside down. This is a definitely a terrifying hurricane, and this is almost surely a Roman army having big troubles.

Many images reflect Jim's interest in how real objects, now and historically, get moved from place to place (theft is one of the reasons).

The walking lecture—literally a moving experience—ends ("begins, maybe", he says) at the west door of Kelsey which he says is his favorite spot in the afternoon with the sun shining so the decals shine like gold. Then he sends us on our way with his permission to, as he does, interpret all this in our own way. Like all oracles, he is handing out permission and encouragement to figure it out for and about our own creative selves. The sun is shining on him. He is radiant.


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