Piecing Together Joseph Cornell

New Exhibit, Book Explore Microcosms Created by New York Artist

Joseph Cornell in his kitchen, in Flushing, NY, c. 1965.

Joseph Cornell in his kitchen, in Flushing, NY, c. 1965. He died seven years later of heart failure. Courtesy Private Collection/Thames & Hudson hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Private Collection/Thames & Hudson
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Joseph Cornell was never trained as an artist, yet he had an eye for the way objects and images fit together. He never learned to paint or draw. Instead, Cornell built small wooden boxes by hand that he filled with collages and objects that he collected over years of treasure hunting in second-hand stores. Cornell worked alone and almost never traveled outside New York City.

If all of that makes him sound like some idiosyncratic outsider or folk artist, he was not. Cornell was one of the most imaginative American artists of the 20th century. The mysterious little worlds he created in his boxes influenced everyone from pop artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol to contemporary installation artists.

Next month marks the centennial of Cornell's birth, and in honor, an exhibition of his boxes has just opened in New York. A new book and DVD, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday have also just been published. David D'Arcy reports.

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