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Making art with an airtight seal 


"I am not contain'd," Walt Whitman cried in "Leaves of Grass." Well, join the club. He thinks his life is a mess? We're all faced with life's detritus slopping over: the dismay felt at leftovers shoved into rinsed-out, bent-up yogurt cups then marooned in the fridge's corners. The sad fate of cookies going stale. And, God, so much wilted lettuce. Oh, to be contained.

Walt needs Tupperware. More to the point, since he's a poet he needs some of the sleek, charming, elegant Tupperware designed by Morison S. Cousins, who since 1990 has been the vice president of design at the Orlando-based company (it's just south of Gatorland). This Friday the Cornell Fine Arts Museum will host a gallery talk by Cousins, a recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize in fine arts from the American Academy in Rome. Cornell will display several of his Tupperware pieces, which have ended up in the design collections of major museums such as the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And, fear not, you'll be able to place orders, since the evening includes a Tupperware party -- whoops! They're called "demonstrations" now.

Walt was also fond of saying things like, "I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul." Someone should hand him the "Tupperware in Museum Collections" catalog. In its serene, black-and-white pictures you see that Cousins thinks we're all poets at heart and that our plastic containers with lids that go thhppt! -- the reassuring sound of closure -- should be beautiful and measured, like poems.

The poet of the body, who just needs someplace to put all this damn stuff, will find answers in these plastic wares. One look at the Wonderlier Bowls and you'll believe that your mess of a life can be solved. Organization is possible. Everything will fit in those bowls. They'll stay neat, like a balanced checkbook.

At the same time the poet of the soul will be transported by the kitchen timer called On the Dot. Its cone shape lulls you into a weak-at-the-knees aesthetic bliss. Two grape-size spheres serve as balancing legs. I never use a kitchen timer. I really want this timer.

Proceeds from any sales benefit the museum. "It's a half party, half serious intellectual endeavor," says Cornell curator Theo Lotz, who agrees that Tupperware makes you more aware of how many things around us aren't well designed. In everyone's kitchen drawer sits a wobbly can-opener with an awkward handle, or its equivalent. "Artists talk about living with their objects, of adding resonance to life," says Lotz.

Walt knew about resonance. He proclaimed, "I am large, I contain multitudes." Yeah, well, he should see Cousins' BagKeeper.


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