dianamuse feature: joseph cornell

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) 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 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, Les Roses des Vents (below) 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 19th-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.

:web museum


Jen said...

His work is wonderful. We have a sculptor, who lives in a tent and lives in FL for part of the year and comes back up to Ann Arbor for warmer weather times. He makes towers in stones and boulders in the settings from which he finds the stones. Some are truly amazing. It's a very non-urban art, but still about discovering what's in one's environment.

P said...

These are fascinating - I imagine they contain a universe of interest.

Bayou Contessa said...

Thank you for reminding me of how much I adore this man's vision and his work. In my opinion, he is a true genius. There are several of his pieces here in the New Orleans Museum of Art and they rock my world every time I experience them.

Jane Flanagan said...

I love this post - both the sentiment and the artwork. I'm just rereading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy and this ties in with Stillman's tours of New York, collecting unnamed objects. Thank you for this post!

Luisa Perkins said...

I love them all, but I covet the third one.

Mary-Laure said...

I didn't know this designer and am stunned by the beauty of his work. Are there any books about him that you'd recommend?

Anonymous said...

Well said.