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Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell

(1903 - 1972)
Born: Nyack, New York
Style: Surrealism
Famous Works:
  • Medici Slot Machine (1942)
  • Pharmacy (1943)
  • Hotel Eden (1945)
Joseph Cornell pioneered the art of assemblage in the twentieth-century in the United States, developing a singularly unique body of work most easily identified as "Cornell Boxes." His life was spent in a modest house in Flushing, New York, a section of the borough Queens, where he lived most of his life with his family. An obsessive collector his entire life, throughout the day Cornell would venture out into the city on an eternal search for the random and irrelevant, visiting only the shops and stores that possessed the most eccentric trinkets and gadgets. This bric-a-brac was then catalogued in shoeboxes in the artist's studio. With this vast array of supplies Cornell created his dreamlike shadow boxes. Photographic images, moving parts and sounds were juxtaposed in their containers to express often-nostalgic emotions. Cornell is strongly tied to the Surrealist movement in both his imagery and process in this manner, and was in fact a great admirer of the Surrealist leader Max Ernst. Cornell's work has obvious formal similarities to another artist who created collages, Kurt Schwitters. However, while Schwitters found his inspiration in the refuse of life such as bus tickets, movie stubs, and newspapers, Cornell's boxes have a gem-like quality, reflecting his focus on the theatricality of objects that were once treasured and precious. This important distinction helps underline how skillfully Cornell combined these trinkets to evoke memory, and how he was able to breathe fresh life into his unexpected marriages of found objects.
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