The aristocratic Wunderkammer, or cabinet of marvels, the 18th-century precursor to the modern museum collection, has become, in the eBay/Antiques Roadshow era, an attractive theme for cross-disciplinary shows, since all museums contain unseen treasures aplenty. The Oakland Museum of California, reopened with its science, natural history, and art holdings nicely mixed and recontextualized, would seem perfect for The Marvelous Museum: A Project by Mark Dion. The internationally known conceptual artist excavated from the vaults oddities like “a baby elephant, a sled used in a nineteenth-century Arctic expedition, an elaborately decorated hornbill skull, [and] a snuff bottle collection” and interpolated them into the permanent collection already on display; made a droll video of old 19th- and 20th-century slides; and created replicas of a scientist’s, a historian’s, and an art curator’s working spaces (senior curator Rene de Guzman even sat working at the latter, occasionally). Yet for all its production values, including an impressive catalog, the exhibition seems unfocused, neither historical/scientific fish nor aesthetic fowl; the current tug of war about art’s sociopolitical and aesthetic boundaries was undoubtedly a factor. The Marvelous Museum runs through March 6, 2011, at the Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak St., Oakland). 510-238-2200 or MuseumCa.org.
Less ambitious but more humorous and theatrical is Studio Quercus‘ eccentric Madame Lucretia’s Parlour for the Study of the Occult and the Macabre, a Halloween-themed group show of nearly forty pieces by 22 local artists. Replicated here is the domicile of an imaginary late-19th-century spiritualist and medium, replete with wainscoting, faux wallpaper, a fireplace, stuffed animals, and antique objets d’art (real and fake), including a suspended Ouija board. The set was designed and fabricated by Tim Sharman, Emil Barber, Kyle Milligan, and Susan Casentini. Fans of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams will feel immediately at ease. Faye Kendall‘s snarling/grinning “Familiar #1;” Susan Sharman‘s hair-fetish piece, “The Ties That Bind;” Jerry Leisure’s sculpture bust, “In Situ;” Omid Mokri‘s “The Long Pose” and “Portrait of Dorianna Grey;” Joy Broom‘s “Insect Altarpiece;” Fernando Hernandez‘s “Untitled-Brain;” Clint Imboden‘s “Cheese Box” assemblages; and Stan Meek‘s “Portrait (Alleged) of Jack the Ripper” will make you glad to be alive, or at least undead. The Winchester Mystery House should be so entertainingly weird. Costume reception Saturday, October 30, 6-9 p.m. Madame Lucretia’s Parlour runs through October 30 at Studio Quercus (385 26th St., Oakland). 510-452-4670 or StudioQuercus.com