Taxonomical Musings

We are less on the trail of the psyche than on the track of things. We seek the totemic tree of objects within the thicket of primal history. The very last, the topmost fact on the totem pole is that of kitsch. Walter Benjamin

Inviting us to lower our sights and sink ourselves into the ill-considered morass of the mass produced, where everything is shop soiled, second rate and second hand, John’s flea market ornaments (akin to Jim Shaw’s ‘thrift store’ paintings) immediately bring to mind the classificatory aesthetic systems associated with the seductive fascination of kitsch. All noble forms, ideals and sentiments are shrunken, miniaturized, sentimentalized, fetishized in the shattered aura of the ornamental; even the grotesque is domesticated, cutified and made collectable.

Whilst Mitchell insists that his work ‘is not about kitsch per se’ but more about the kind of taxonomical concerns he associates with the photographic legacy of August Sander, and childhood obsession with the taxonomy of collecting, he is open to the fact that for some viewers, like myself, this mode of display invites a spectatorial perspective on this phenomenon.

Dr Roger Cook, March 2009
Visiting Fellow Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies
University of London