DAILY ART FIX: On Artist Joseph Cornell

Art world links which caught my eye…

A repost of a blog I originally wrote on January 28, 2017


Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Hotel Eden)”


“Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys.
To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.”

-Joseph Cornell

After I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 2000, and spent some time absorbing the local art scene, I noticed something very different than what I was used to. I had come from Richmond, Virginia, where at the time painting was the predominant art form. In Phoenix I saw lots of assemblage. Assemblage Art is like making three dimensional collages, creating composed groupings out of just about any object imaginable. I’ve become a huge fan of this technique, which can be utilized to create such poetry: visual fragments shored against our ruins.

On thinking of assemblage art I think of Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972), the undisputed master of the genre. Looking at the mysterious little worlds he evoked out of dime store trinkets, you would never imagine the seemingly mundane life the artist lived. He spent his entire adult existence in a tiny suburban home in Flushing, New York, which he shared with his mother and invalid   brother, for as long as they lived. His workshop was in the basement. Here he created the shadow boxes that described his romantic dreams about legendary ballerinas, faded Continental hotels, contemplative aviaries, and the celestial heavens themselves. This painfully shy self taught artist was accepted as a colleague by the Surrealists during their War World II exile in New York City. They recognized true vision when they encountered it.

Untitled (Tilly Losch), c. 1935 - 38 Box construction 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 inches (25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm) The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman, Washington, DC Photograph by Mark Gulezian/QuickSilver, Washington, DC © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Tilly Losch”



Joseph Cornell “Untitled (Celestial Navigation)”


Joseph Cornell Naples, 1942 Box construction, 28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015 Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Press use is considered to be moderate use of images to report a current event or to illustrate a review or criticism of the work, as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Chapter 48 Section 30 Subsections (1) - (3). Reproductions which comply with the above do not need to be licensed. Reproductions for all non-press uses or for press uses where the above criteria do not apply (e.g. covers and feature articles) must be licensed before publication. Further information can be obtained at www.dacs.org.uk or by contacting DACS licensing on +44 207 336 8811. Due to UK copyright law only applying to UK publications, any articles or press uses which are published outside of the UK and include reproductions of these images will need to have sought authorisation with the relevant copyright society of that country. Please also ensure that all works that are provided are shown in full, with no overprinting or manipulation.

Joseph Cornell “Naples”


Observatory: Corona Borealis Casement, 1950 Box construction 18 1/8 x 11 13/16 x 5 1/2 inches (46 x 30 x 14 cm) Private Collection, Chicago Photograph by Michael Tropea, Chicago © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Joseph Cornell “Observatory – Corona Borealis Casement”

13 thoughts on “DAILY ART FIX: On Artist Joseph Cornell

  1. True story:

    I first read about Cornell in one of William Gibson’s novels.

    A couple years later I was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was given an assignment involving cigar boxes. I did several along the lines of what I’d read about in the novel, not realizing that Cornell was a real person.

    I explained this to my instructor, and she noted that Cornell was real, and that the Institute had several of his boxes on display.

  2. Absolutely love this! I have been sharing unique artists over at my Sunday Evening Art Gallery blog, and this is just the kind of wonderful art that I love discovering. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Very cool. As to Petro’s experience, there is nothing more disheartening than thinking you are in pristine territory and then finding someone else’s footprints. What you have to keep in mind is those footprints may soon stop and be continued by your own. Inspiration is a strange critter.

  4. If you haven’t already, you might want to look up the work of Louise Nevelson. She was also an artist known for assemblage. Very different from Cornell, but really interesting stuff to look at.

  5. He made one of my favorite movies, Rose Hobart. It’s very much an assemblage too as he recut a print of the Hollywood B movie East of Borneo removing the narrative content to create a romantic dream/homage to the starring actress. According to the liner notes on the DVD, Salvador Dali was present at a screening and after it finished, he kicked the projector over in a fit of rage saying he had been thinking about making a move like that and it was as if Cornell had read his mind. That’s some serious cred right there.

  6. JC: Getting elements from history and create a dream that also inhabits one of the rooms in your brain (mind). Cornell knew how to share. When I tried to transmit (historic) elements that I encountered into a box, this often met resistance. Not seldom, many ended on, and not in the box. “Mrs Offers likes her Statues” an exception. “Assemblages, the entrails explained” is an inadequate essay that was published in Axon Journal, Issue 9. (as Drager Meurtant).

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