By collecting and carefully juxtaposing found objects in small, glass-front boxes, Cornell created visual poems in which surface, form, texture, and light play together. Using things we can see, Cornell made boxes about things we cannot see: ideas, memories, fantasies, and dreams.
He was a kind of magician, turning everyday objects into mysterious treasures. In Homage to the Romantic Ballet, plastic ice cubes become jewels when set in a velvet-lined box, souvenirs of a famous ballerina's midnight performance on the frozen Russian steppe. A small glass jar filled with colored sand is transformed into powdered gold from a
Mayan temple, carefully preserved in Cornell's Museum.
A symbolist, Cornell used the found materials that inhabit
his boxes—paper birds, clay pipes, clock springs, balls, and rings—to hint at abstract ideas. A metal spring from a
discarded wind-up clock may evoke the passage of time; a ball might represent a planet or the luck associated with playing a game. Although his constructions are enveloped in nostalgia—the longing for something that happened long ago and far away—their appearance is thoroughly modern.
(10.2 x 25.3 x 17.1 cm)
The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1982.1854
©The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Romantic Ballet, 1942