Art Quiz: The Answer is Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell.

Who? Nope. Never heard of him. I had to go searching for information, and here’s what I found:

Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972) was an American visual artist and filmmaker, one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. Influenced by the Surrealists, he was also an avant-garde experimental filmmaker. He was largely self-taught in his artistic efforts, and improvised his own original style incorporating cast-off and discarded artifacts. He lived most of his life in relative physical isolation, caring for his mother and his disabled brother at home, but remained aware of and in contact with other contemporary artists. — Wikipedia

As an “assemblage” artist, Cornell is best known for his delicate boxes — shadow boxes, actually — with glass fronts. Inside these boxes he arranged collections of objects, images of paintings, and old photographs. Many of his boxes were designed to be “interactive”.

In 2015, the Royal Academy presented an exhibition of Cornell’s artworks. An excellent biography is their look at his life:

Joseph Cornell: Pioneer of Assemblage Art

They describe him as “an unrepentant homebody, a meek, monkish, well-read man who never spent a night away from home.”

Yet in his own way, he traveled the world, collecting bits of pieces of lives and putting them together in ways often referred to as “poetic”.

Another interesting biography comes from the Guardian:

Joseph Cornell: How the Reclusive Artist Conquered the Art World – From His Mum’s Basement

I found this information especially intriguing:

As a boy, he saw Houdini perform in New York City, escaping from locked cabinets, wreathed in chains. In his own artwork, which he didn’t begin until he was almost 30, he made obsessive, ingenious versions of the same story: a multitude of found objects representing expansiveness and flight, penned inside glass-fronted cases. Ballet dancers, birds, maps, aviators, stars of screen and sky, at once cherished, fetishised and imprisoned. – The Guardian

Here is one of Cornell’s many boxes. This is “Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery”.

Joseph Cornell pioneered the practice of assemblage with his signature multimedia “shadow boxes.” In these poetic, associative works, the artist combined found objects, painted surfaces, and collage. Cornell was a major collector of everyday ephemera, and his materials ranged from marbles and toys to maps and seashells. Film was a major influence, and the artist also made his own surreal, experimental works of cinema: Rose Hobart (ca. 1936) was itself a collage film. Cornell’s work has sold for millions on the secondary market and belongs in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tate, the Museo Reina Sofía, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. — Artsy

This is definitely a form of “mixed media”, a bit of “art journaling” in three-dimensions. I’m curious to know more about Cornell and the “treasures” he stored in the basement. I’m hoping to visit the Art Institute of Chicago later this year, and if so, I will make a point of seeing Cornell’s work.

I’m also going to look more closely at the “treasures” I’ve accumulated over the years. My husband, too, is curious about “assemblage art” — in the guise of “junk metal sculptures” — so between the two of us, who knows what weird creations we might put together!

Have you created “assemblage art” before? Done any “junk journals”? Made any shadow boxes? I’m fascinated by the concept of putting discarded objects together, so please share your experiences!




    1. I like looking at “junk” journals and sculptures. I’ve never actually tried creating anything, though. I really want my husband to try making “junk sculptures.” He has so much useful junk in his workshops!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really love the concept! I’ve never felt that I had enough imagination to do a junk journal. Maybe one day I will give it a try. I’ve thought about enrolling in a “junk journal” class — even if I don’t create one, it would be fun to see the process involved.

        Liked by 1 person

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