Mention the name Joseph Cornell, and most of the time you will be greeted with a blank stare. But for the cognoscenti the name induces almost a state of rapture. And with good reason. Although by no means a household name, the magical worlds created by this exceptional American artist touch the viewer in a way that once seen, are never forgotten.
Joseph Cornell was born in Nyack, New York in 1903. Although his work is very European in feeling, the fact is that throughout his 69 years on this earth, he never ventured farther West than New Jersey, farther North than Massachusetts or farther South than New York City! This largely self-taught artist managed, through reading, conversation, motion pictures but mostly his unfettered imagination to create miniature worlds within his boxes often using nothing more than "found" objects.
Joseph Cornell could create masterpieces from the commonplace. His "assemblages" took pieces as simple as glasses, balls, stamps, cut-outs or bits of wood and installed them in a way to create three dimensional "lyrical poetry". His collages combined disparate images culled from his visits to libraries, museums, flea markets and book shops, all put together to create a totally original and fantastical worlds within a frame. Often categorized as a Surrealist, he was never truly associated with the movement. His influences were many - Symbolism, Constructivism, Transcendentalism, Hollywood, the Ballet, and Christian Science - all coming together to endow his creations with the unique "Cornell" look and feel.
Joseph Cornell remains an enigma to this day. He spent most of his life in a simple frame house on the Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York. He was devoted to and cared for his younger brother who was stricken with cerebral palsy. He never married and was obsessed with unattainable women. He was an intensely private person, almost child-like in his wants and needs. Yet his boxes, collages, and films bear the mark of an extremely sophisticated and worldly man. It is perhaps this juxtaposition of the simple and the sublime that make his work irresistible to so many.
Feeling curious about the work of Joseph Cornell? You're in luck! There is a wonderful exhibition now on at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in Chelsea, New York! Stop in and see for yourself the marvelous, wonderful, totally American creation that was Joseph Cornell!