Nature is back on artists' menus these days after long wanderings in the wilderness. Joy Broom's Waxed and Winged: A Cabinet of Curiosities makes a powerful aesthetic case for paying attention to Mother Nature, whom, as the ads instructed us, it's not nice to fool. Broom, who lives in Martinez and teaches at Diablo Valley College, is well known for assemblages, drawings, and paintings. Whether based on her late mother's possessions, her travels in Italy and Mexico, or her passion for curiosa, they are, in her words, "small meditations in themselves, referring to my own and human history as a part of a wider natural universe." The Wunderkabinett or Wunderkammer, the cabinet or chamber that European aristocrats from the Renaissance up until the 19th century stocked with animal, vegetable, and mineral marvels, is the model or premise for this show, which reads as a combination biological/botanical archive, temple, and reliquary. Broom's extensive use of beeswax, an ancient art medium that readily connotes eternity and preservation, adds to the esoteric, arcane vibe — one that keeps with some of Studio Quercus's previous installations: Ironic, theatrical, and humorous, they're conceptualism with a human face.
"I love bugs and old maps," Broom told a recent interviewer, and her traipsing/treasure-hunting gene is evident in the hundred or so pieces exhibited here: assemblages within wall-hung shadow boxes or bell jars displayed on the gallery's antique desk and shelves; tabletop assemblages set within museum specimen-storage drawers; and eighteen mixed-media paintings, flat versions of her 3D work, that layer images of insect and human nymphs. The assemblages combine Broom's outdoor gleanings with antique papers, prints and maps, and her drawings. A partial inventory would include "seeds, trees, vines, cells, [images of] my body, insects, organs, cocoons, and whorls representing energy itself," as well as branches, pressed flowers, feather pelts, wax figurines, dried insects or reptiles, and small biological-supply-house critters encased in resin. Joseph Cornell's nostalgic miniature world theaters are clearly an artistic precedent, with Broom's Madonnas and Renaissance princesses reminiscent of his ballerinas, opera singers, film starlets, and Medici princelings. The best of her assemblages become poetic dioramas, attaining a Cornellian deep-time magic. Standout assemblages include: "Black and White, Two Big Butterflies"; "Grasshopper, Anthurium, Jacaranda Pods"; "Saving All Our Honeybees"; "Layered Drawings, Wood with Pencil, Yellow Jackets"; and "Black and White Series: Defending the Seed, Mother of Us All, Protect Against the Elements, Looking for Clues." Standout paintings include: "Revising Rafael"; "Six Virgins, Early Metamorphosis"; "Center of the Universe"; and "Nine Young Girls." Waxed and Winged runs through February 19 at Studio Quercus (385 26th St., Oakland). 510-452-4670 or StudioQuercus.com