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CORNELL

cornell
(1903-1973)

"[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

 CORNELL_TILLY

CORNELL, Joseph Tilly Losch c. 1935 Construction 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago

 CORNELL_SWANLAKE

CORNELL, Joseph A Swan Lake for Tamara Toumanova (Homage to the Romantic Ballet) 1946 Box construction: painted wood, glass pane, photostats on wood, blue glass, mirrors, painted paperboard, feathers, velvet, and rhinestones 9 1/2 x 13 x 4 in. The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

 CORNELL_SOLARSET

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Solar Set) c. 1956-58 Construction 11 1/2 x 16 1/4 x 3 5/8 in. Collection Donald Karshan, New York

 CORNELL_SOAPBUBL

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) 1936 Construction 15 3/4 x 14 1/4 x 5 7/16 in. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

 CORNELL_SEMARAMI

CORNELL, Joseph Grand Hotel Semiramis

 CORNELL_ROSEVENT

CORNELL, Joseph Object (Roses des Vents) 1942-1953 Construction 2 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 10 3/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 CORNELL_PRINCESS

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Medici Princess) c. 1948 Construction 17 5/8 x 11 1/8 x 4 3/8 in. Private collection

 CORNELL_PRINCE

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Medici Prince) c. 1952 Construction 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 5 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Shapiro, Oak Park, IL

 CORNELL_PHARMACY

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Pharmacy) 1943 Construction 15 1/4 x 12 x 3 1/8 in. Collection Mrs. Marcel Duchamp, Paris

 CORNELL_PENINSUL

CORNELL, Joseph Toward the Blue Peninsula 1951-52 Construction 10 5/8 x 14 15/16 x 3 15/16 in. Collection Daniel Varenne, Geneva

 CORNELL_PAULANDV

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Paul and Virginia) c. 1946-48 Construction 12 1/2 x 9 15/16 x 4 3/8 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago

 CORNELL_P_PALACE

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Pink Palace) c. 1946-48 Construction 10 x 16 7/16 x 3 3/4 in. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

 CORNELL_MEDICI

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Medici Boy) 1942-1952 Construction 13 15/16 x 11 3/16 x 3 7/8 in. Estate of Joseph Cornell

 CORNELL_L_EGYPTE

CORNELL, Joseph L'Egypte de Mlle Cleo de Merode cours elementaire d'histoire naturelle 1940 Construction 4 11/16 x 10 11/16 x 7 1/4 in. Collection Richard L. Feigen, New York

 CORNELL_JUANGRIS

CORNELL, Joseph A Parrot for Juan Gris Winter 1953-54 Construction 17 3/4 x 12 3/16 x 4 5/8 in. Collection Paul Simon

 CORNELL_HOTELEDN

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (The Hotel Eden) c. 1945 Construction 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 in. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

 CORNELL_GRANDOWL

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Grand Owl Habitat) c. 1946 Construction 24 x 13 1/8 x 4 13/16 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. Richard L. Kaplin, Toledo, OH

 CORNELL_GALLERY

CORNELL, Joseph Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery 1943 Construction 15 1/2 x 11 1/8 x 4 1/4 in. Des Moines Art Center, Coffin Fine Arts

 CORNELL_FACADE

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Window Facade) c. 1950 Box construction: painted wood, glass, cracked glass, and mirror 18 5/8 x 12 3/8 x 3 1/2 in. The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

 CORNELL_DEFENSE

CORNELL, Joseph Defense d'Afficher Object 1939 Construction 8 15/16 x 13 15/16 x 2 1/8 in. Collection Denise and Andrew Saul

 CORNELL_CYGNE

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Hotel du Cygne) c. 1952-55 Construction 19 3/16 x 12 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. Castelli Feigen Corcoran

 CORNELL_COCKATOO

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Cockatoo and Corks) c. 1948 Construction 14 3/8 x 13 1/2 x 5 5/8 in. Private collection

 CORNELL_CASVERSO

CORNELL, Joseph Verso of Cassiopeia #1

 CORNELL_CASSIOPA

CORNELL, Joseph Cassiopeia #1

 CORNELL_BIRDS

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled 1942 Construction 13 1/8 x 10 x 3 1/2 in. Private collection, New York

 CORNELL_BEBEMARI

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Bebe Marie) Early 1940's Construction 23 3/8 x 12 5/16 x 5 1/4 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 CORNELL_BACALL

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) 1945-46 Construction 20 1/2 x 16 x 3 1/2 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago

 CORNELL_APPOLINA

CORNELL, Joseph Untitled (Apollinaris) c. 1954 Construction 15 15/16 x 9 3/4 x 4 3/8 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago

 CORNELL_ABEILLE

CORNELL, Joseph Object (Abeilles) 1940 Construction 9 1/8 x 14 1/8 x 3 7/16 in. Collection Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Wiseman, Beverly Hills, CA