Joseph Cornell (American, 1903–1972) is best known for his Modernist assemblages, experimental films, and his association with the Surrealist group of avant-garde artists. Cornell was born in Nyack, NY, and his family moved to Queens, NY, when he was 12 after his father’s death. Cornell attended Philips Academy, in Andover, MA, for three years before returning to Queens, where he lived for the rest of his life. He worked a number of different jobs after attending school, ranging from designing textiles to selling refrigerators. During this time, he began to create boxes and toys for his brother, who had cerebral palsy and who lived with Cornell his entire life.

Cornell was keenly interested in opera, ballet, and fine arts; in the 1920s, he began making sculptural boxes, collages, and assemblages and. In the early 1930s, he then stated collecting found objects and juxtaposing them in boxes behind glass. He would often scour thrift stores for objects and categorize them into particular themes, embracing them as aesthetic and evocative remnants of the past. In 1931, Cornell met several Surrealist artists at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York City and, while never a part of the circle himself, he exhibited with them several times, including at the landmark Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition. His shadow boxes and assemblage works revolved around themes of birds, travel, movie personas, observatories, the Medici family, and other subjects throughout the 1940s and 1950s. By the 1960s, Cornell was concentrating more heavily on collage works and revisited his older assemblages, adding further found objects and ephemera to them in imaginative works documenting his own emotions and memories. Cornell has had several retrospectives, including at the Pasadena Art Museum, CA, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, NY, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. Cornell died in 1973 at his home in Queens, at 70 years old.

Timeline

1903
Born: in Nyack, NY
1917–1921
Studies at the Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
1972
Died: in Flushing, NY

Exhibitions

2012
Automaton, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, Germany (group)
2008
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (solo)
Selections from the collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs, Zwirner & Wirth, New York, NY
2007
Joseph Cornell, Jirí Kolár, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
Cosmologies, James Cohan Gallery, New York, NY
2006
Andromeda Hotel: The Art of Joseph Cornell, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY (solo)
Surrealism - Theater of the Mind, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA
2005
Joseph Cornell - Boxes and Collages, L&M Arts, New York, NY (solo)
Mapping Space, MAM - Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL
2004
Under $2,000 Albers < Zaugg, Brooke Alexander Editions, New York, NY
2003–2004
Joseph Cornell at the Hudson River Museum, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY (solo)
2003
Joseph Cornell - Collages, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA (solo)
Joseph Cornell Collages, Jonathan Novak Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA (solo)
2002–2003
Joseph Cornell: Toys, Objects, Box Constructions, Collages, Allan Stone Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
2002
The Spirit of Joseph Cornell, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (solo)
Collage - Abstract Expressionist & Pop, Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York, NY
2001
About Objects, The RISD Museum, Providence, RI
2000
Inside out: reality or fiction?, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, NY
1999
Joseph Cornell, A Memoir, Palo Alto Art Center, Palo Alto, CA (solo)
Surrealism - The Two Private Eyes, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
1998
A Sense for Scale II. The Art of the Miniature, The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH
1970
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (solo)
1967
Dada, Surrealism, and their Heritage, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1966
An Exhibition of Works by Joseph Cornell, Pasadena Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA (solo)
1966
Retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (solo)
1962
Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (solo)
1961
The Art of Assemblage, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1953
Annual Survey Exhibition of American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
1952
Fifteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1949
Work inspired by the ballet, La Lanterne Magique du Ballet Romantique, Hugo Gallery, New York, NY
1939
Julien Levy Gallery, New York, NY (solo)
1936
Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1935
American Painting and Sculpture of the 18th, 19th, & 20th Centuries, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
1932
Surréalisme, Julien Levy Gallery, New York, NY
Julien Levy Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

Literature

2008
Wechsler, Jeffrey and Townsend Ludington. Image in the Box: From Cornell to Contemporary. New York, NY: Hollis Taggart Galleries, 2008 (catalogue)
2007
Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe. Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
1967
Waldman, Diane. Joseph Cornell. New York, NY: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1967 (catalogue)
1966
Hopps, Walter, James Demetrion, preface; Fairfield Porter. An Exhibition of Works by Joseph Cornell. Pasadenam CA: Pasadena Art Museum, 1966 (catalogue)