Joseph Cornell: December 24,1903-December 29,1972...United
"Shadow boxes become
poetic theaters or settings wherein are metamorphosed the element of a childhood pastime."
One of the first artists to explore the ideas of instillation, environment,
and sight, was the painfully shy artist, Joseph Cornell. He was a life-long New Yorker who saw
his share of hard times. After high school he helpd his dad in his dry goods store. After his dad’s death, his mother
moved to Queens where she supported her four children, including an son with cerebral palsy. Although they struggled, Cornell
was determined to get an education. With a limited formal training from Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, he began working
as a textile designer. He was using his money to begin collecting small and unique things. He amassed a huge collection of
books, movies, graphic arts works, souvenirs, photos, records, and lots of other stuff. By the early 1930s, he gets involved
with the surrealist movement. It was at this time that he begins to place some of his collected things into wood boxes that
were fitted with glass fronts. These works became known as assemblages. These assemblages revolved
around the ideas of birds, travel, photography, music, art history, and/or astronomy. These intimate installations
of his artifacts became his calling card. It has been claimed that he began his assemblages to entertain his handicapped brother
who he was caring for. A private man, Cornell refused to collaborate with his fellow artists and did not exclusively show
his art with any one art click. Through Julian Levy, he begins to show his art with the surrealists in 1932. His was greatly
influenced by Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, and Marcel Duchamp although he never worked directly with anyone.
Beyond his more known assemblage work, Cornell was also known for his collages.
These relatively small works were created from found images that were cut apart, rearranged into a new composition and attached
permanently for public display.
Living as an isolated artist, Cornell did not know his popularity. He died
at his home in Flashing, New York.