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See also: Surrealism
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|"[Cornell] spent most of his life in a frame house on Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York, with his mother and his crippled brother, Robert. From there this reclusive, gray, long-beaked man would sally forth on small voyages of discovery, scavenging for relics of the past in New York junk shops and flea markets. To others, these deposits might be refuse, but to Cornell they were the strata of repressed memory, a jumble of elements waiting to be grafted and mated to one another.|
"In the studio he would sort his finds into their eccentric categories - 'Spiders,' 'Moons,' and so forth - and file them with boxes of his own mementos, like love letters to Jennifer Jones and other movie stars or ballet dancers he'd never met; and from them he made boxes. He would tinker with them for years. Object (Roses des Vents) was begun in 1942 and not finished until 1953. It is full of emblems of voyages Cornell never took, a little box of mummified waves and shrunken exotic coasts, peninsulas, planets, things set in compartments, with a drop-in panel containing twenty-one compasses, each with its needle pointing insouciantly in a different direction from that of its neighbor. Even the map on the inside of the lid, cut from some nineteenth-century German chart book, depicts an excessively remote coastline: that of the Great Australian Bight. The earth is presented not as our daily habitat but as one strange planet among others, which to Cornell it was.
"Some of his beginnings in the 1930s lay in Surrealism: Cornell was particularly affected by the collages of Victorian steel engravings in Max Ernst's series La Femme 100 tetes. Yet nowhere in Surrealism is there an imagery quite like his. Cornell distinguished between what he called 'the Max Ernst white magic side' of Surrealism and its darker, more violent aspects. He embraced the first but shied away from the second. He didn't share the revolutionary fantasies of the Surrealists or their erotic obsessions. There isn't a sexual image, let alone a trace of amour fou, in his entire output. The most he would permit himself was a gentle fetishism. If, as some have thought, Cornell's imagery had to do with childhood, then it was one which no child has ever known, an infancy without rage or desire. Sometimes he would crack the glass pane that protected the contents of the box, but that is all he allowed in the way of violence - it suggests that the sanctuary of imagination has been attacked. That glass, the 'fourth wall' of his miniature theater, is also the diaphragm between two contrasting worlds. Outside, chaos, accident, and libido, the stuff of unprotected life; inside, sublimation, memory, and peace, one of whose chief emblems was the caged bird, the innocent resident of The Hotel Eden, 1945.
"At times, though not often, Cornell's imagination looks fey or precious. There is a treacherous line between sentiment and sentimentality, particularly in his evocations of his own Edwardian environment as a child. Yet his gothic fantasies and fussily reverential evocations of dead Victorian ballerinas - Marie Taglioni being a special favorite - are usually drawn back from the edge by Cornell's rigor as a formal artist. Not for nothing did he call himself a 'constructivist.' Cornell was intensely Francophile, though he had never been to France - witness his many references to French provincial hotels, and even by the worn, comfy French colors of his box interiors, the ivory whites and pinks and faded blue-grays. But he was, just as intensely, an American artist, with his asexual Puritan imagination and his belief in unsullied purity, expressed in the strict architecture within his boxes: white compartments and pigeonholes, sometimes - as in his series of 'Dovecotes' - without anything else in them. It is an imagery of New England spareness, suggesting clapboard meetinghouses, plain fences, and rectitude above all."
- From "American Visions", by Robert Hughes
Joseph Cornell images
|c. 1935||Tilly Losch|
|1936||Untitled (Soap Bubble Set)|
|1939||Defense d'Afficher Object|
|1940||L'Egypte de Mlle Cleo de Merode cours elementaire d'histoire naturelle|
|c. 1940||Untitled (Bebe Marie)|
|1942-1952||Untitled (Medici Boy)|
|1942-1953||Object (Roses des Vents)|
|1943||Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery|
|c. 1945||Untitled (The Hotel Eden)|
|1945-46||Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall)|
|1946||A Swan Lake for Tamara Toumanova (Homage to the Romantic Ballet)|
|c. 1946||Untitled (Grand Owl Habitat)|
|c. 1946-48||Untitled (Paul and Virginia)|
|c. 1946-48||Untitled (Pink Palace)|
|c. 1948||Untitled (Cockatoo and Corks)|
|c. 1948||Untitled (Medici Princess)|
|c. 1950||Untitled (Window Facade)|
|1950||Grand Hotel Semiramis|
|1951-52||Toward the Blue Peninsula|
|c. 1952||Untitled (Medici Prince)|
|c. 1952-55||Untitled (Hotel du Cygne)|
|1953-54||A Parrot for Juan Gris|
|c. 1954||Untitled (Apollinaris)|
|c. 1956-58||Untitled (Solar Set)|
|1960||Verso of Cassiopeia #1|