Joseph Cornell

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Joseph Cornell (born December 24, 1903 in Nyack , New York , † December 29, 1972 in New York ) was an American sculptor, painter and experimental filmmaker .


Influenced by surrealism , he composed collages and assemblages since 1931 . He befriended some Surrealists who fled to the United States before World War II . Cornell lived most of his life in the New York borough of Queens with his mother and disabled brother Robert. As an artist he was self-taught and became famous above all for his boxes , which he called "constructions": assemblages in boxes, often provided with a glass wall, in which he combined poetic collections of photographs, star maps, spheres or Victorian toys according to his own symbolism.

Positive-minded critics attested to him combining the formal clarity of constructivism with the lively imagination of surrealism. In contrast to many surrealists, he also found his objects in everyday life, but was not fascinated by the negative or rejected, but by fragments of the once beautiful, which he put together into subtle, humorous, sometimes erotic compositions. He was a participant in the 4th documenta in Kassel in 1968 and also represented as an artist at Documenta 5 in 1972.

With his art, especially with his boxes , Joseph Cornell was a role model for Tony Curtis , who not only supported Cornell financially for a long time.

Works (selection)

  • 1936: Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) - Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
  • 1940–50: Portrait of Ondine - box with various reproductions on paper, Courtesy Castelli Feigen Corcoran
  • 1942–52: Untitled (Medici slot machine) - Courtesy Castelli Feigen Corcoran
  • 1945: Untitled (The Motel Eden) - National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
  • 1945–46: Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) - Bergman Collection, Chicago

Films (selection)

  • 1936: Rose Hobart / Tristes Tropiques. Collage film, 19 minutes.
  • 1957: Nymphlight. Camera: R. Burckhardt. Silent film, color, 3 minutes.


  • Kynaston McShine: Joseph Cornell. Prestel Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-7913-1063-1 .
  • Alison Baverstock: Joseph Cornell. Secrets in a box. Prestel Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7913-2928-6 .
  • Prestel Postcardbook: Joseph Cornel. Prestel Verlag, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-7913-2324-5 .

Web links