Sometimes the internet can be a magical thing. For about a year, I’ve used an extension developed by the Art Institute of Chicago in Google Chrome that shows a new piece of art from the museum’s collection every time I open a new browser window. It’s a good way of seeing obscure stuff buried deep in the collection, such as unfinished drawings or a pre-Columbian amulet from Peru.
Last week, I turned up a set of witch balls from the mid-19th century, the hollow glass spheres used to ward off or trap troublesome spirits, which are also employed as a tool of divination, most commonly in England and in the United States. The object — delicate, translucent glass striated with threads of white — stopped me in my tracks. It also sent me down a bit of an internet rabbit hole. I found out that New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art also has witch balls in its collection, as does the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
It made me wonder what other tools of magic were hidden in museum collections and what it meant to gaze into an orb and find within its contours a portal to other worlds.
All of this had me in just the right mindset as I wandered into Ariana Papademetropoulos’ exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch the next day.