Joseph Cornell


Assemblage boxes by American artist, collagist, and filmmaker Joseph Cornell.


Tilly Losch
c. 1935

 Construction, 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago


Object (Roses des Vents)

 Construction, 2 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 10 3/8 in; The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Untitled (The Hotel Eden)
c. 1945

 Construction, 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 in; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa


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


Toward the Blue Peninsula

Construction, 10 5/8 x 14 15/16 x 3 15/16 in; Collection Daniel Varenne, Geneva


I find Joseph Cornell such an intriguing character.  Self taught, he was one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. I am in love with his sense of symmetry, both in design and colour. There is something very calming about the exactness of these boxes. Everything just fits, it works. Each square is where it is born to be, each shape leads you to the next, creating a great journey for the eye to dream upon. There are stories and surprises in every box, offering small places of contemplation and inspiration that celebrate the unique in the commonplace.

I have always been fascinated by miniature worlds, looking into something and finding a million other little scenes and universes. These give me that feeling, like gazing into a deep rockpool and imagining yourself grown tiny and swimming inside. You cannot help but try to formulate connections between the objects here, to uncover meaning and create stories.

Cornell was a passionate collector – books, prints, postcards, and printed and three-dimensional ephemera all found their way into his life and work. He was also continually keeping notes and diaries, exploring ideas and carrying out “explorations” where he would conduct research, collect material and compile extensive files on individuals or topics of interest to him. These became thought of as artworks in themselves.

There is a fascinating collection of his papers, correspondance and diaries, along with a biography, at the Archives of American Art website here. See some more of his works here.


8 thoughts on “Joseph Cornell

  1. After doing so much photography, I enjoy seeing the physicality of these boxes!
    As a kid I built (sawing the wood myself) something I called a “memory box”) without knowing the art history of assemblage boxes.
    Many surprises at your blog! (I don’t see a like button, so I’m sending you my “like” this way!)

  2. One of my all-time favorite artists. If you get to the Chicago Art Institute, there is are several wonderful rooms filled with Cornell boxes.

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