Time Travel Tuesday: Joseph Cornell

May 3, 2011

We decided to do a more regular Time Travel Tuesday guest post w/Sara at Brown Paper Bag!!! So excited that she chose Joseph Cornell as her artist this time; I was obsessed with the huge collection of his boxes at the Art Institute as a kid, especially this one of the owl that lights up when you press a button! Read more about Cornell below and don’t forget to visit BPB for my article on outsider artist, Martín Ramirez + more amazing art!

Often times I’m looking at sites like Tumblr or Pinterest, which serve as a way for someone to catalog images and cultivate their taste by grouping or collecting something that may catch the eye.

Joseph Cornell was an artist doing this long before computers ever existed. He is best known as a sculptor, and a pioneer of assemblage and a maker of boxes. Born, raised, and lived his life as a New Yorker, Cornell’s family troubles from an early age forced him to teach himself art and work an number of different odd jobs while doing so. It was not until the end of his career that he began to gain notoriety for his boxes and later, short films.

Personally, I am most intrigued by his boxes. Cornell used found objects in simply constructed forms, usually fronted with a glass pane. Arrangements of object and photographs were both a combination of the formal aspects of Constructivism and the imagination of Surrealism. Cornell was interested in nostalgia, and scoured thrift stores for once-precious objects that were broken or discarded. From there, he juxtaposed elements to create an often-nonsensical narrative or reflect that his current interests (such as birds, hotels, and observatories).

With the advent of the Internet and the saturation of images and sites that focus on collections and aesthetics, I often feel like Cornell’s work has helped us to organize, albeit in a different manner. Looking at his work reminds me to not only create a story, but to find meaning in fragments.


All images via Artchive & The Art Institute of Chicago.

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4 Responses to Time Travel Tuesday: Joseph Cornell

  1. Jessalyn on May 3, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Hey Rebecca,
    You probably know that I love Joseph Cornell. Have you heard of Betye Saar? She also does some work with boxes as a riff off Cornell but was part of the black arts movement in the 1970′s. I really like her work as well!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betye_Saar

  2. [...] on over to Big Things to read my post about Joseph Cor­nell, specif­i­cally focus­ing on his boxes! Also be sure to take a look around the Big Things shop. [...]

  3. Jeff on May 4, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I think characterizing Cornell’s results “an often-nonsensical narrative” is too much of a leap or maybe just too easy. His narratives made absolute sense to him and from what I’ve read nonsense was not one of his intents. Whimsy perhaps, and that only now and then, but not nonsense. Revisit the collages “Where Does the Sun Go at Night” or “The Human Thermostat” for examples. Juxtaposition? Yes. Enigmatic? Absolutely. However the narratives clear and contain bigger ideas than most of his peers.

  4. [...] to another edition of Time Travel Tuesday with Sara of Brown Paper Bag! Her past posts on Joseph Cornell and Hilma af Klint have been a huge hit, so enjoy this week’s fantastical etchings by [...]

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