Joseph Cornell (American, 1903–1972) is best known for his Modernist assemblages and experimental films, and his association with the Surrealist group of 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 Art; in the 1920s, he began making sculptural boxes, collages, and assemblages. In the early 1930s, he 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 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. 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 in Pasadena, 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 in San Francisco, CA.

Cornell died in 1973 at his home in Queens, at the age of 70.


Born in Nyack, NY
Attended Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
Died in Queens, NY


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


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