Joseph Cornell


About The Artist

American multimedia artist Joseph Cornell began developing the concept for his now iconic shadow boxes in the early 1930s after multiple encounters with Surrealist artists and writers at the avant-garde Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The latter would exhibit the artist's own work in a group exhibition entitled "Surréalisme" in 1932 and over the course of the following three decades Cornell would further hone his approach to his signature bric-a-brac assemblages, integrating seemingly contrary, fetishized objects such as marbles, seashells, butterflies, postcards, navigational tools, toys, and sundry paper ephemera - which he sourced from antique and junk shops in New York - into highly sophisticated, strikingly organic tableaux.

Taking a cue from Marcel Duchamp's infamous "readymades," as well as Kurt Schwitters's boxed Dada collage constructions, Cornell's valise dossiers, films, collages, and seminal glass-fronted shadow boxes fluidly mix references from highbrow and lowbrow sources to create potent, poetic vignettes with a motley assemblage of found and everyday objects. Many of Cornell's works were designed with the intention of being experienced by direct handling. This interaction was meant to produce variations on the vignettes that an individual assemblage had the potential to produce.

Although very well connected in the art world of his day-artists Yayoi Kusama, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell were all counted among his confidants-Cornell was a notorious recluse, living with his brother in their mother's home on Utopia Parkway in Queens for his entire life, and rarely making public appearances. And although his work reflects a voracious appetite for foreign places and faraway cultures, as well as an ongoing interest in travel and various modes of transit, Cornell never physically ventured beyond New York. In more ways than one, his oeuvre reflects the output of both an enthusiastic armchair traveller, as well as that of an avid collector with an eye for commingling disparate, neglected objects to create new meanings, which themselves continually give way to different interpretations with each new encounter.