From the Archives

Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell

Diane Waldman
Published in 1967
60 pages, fully illustrated

Director Thomas Messer declared Joseph Cornell to be "an archivist of a vanished age" in the catalogue introduction to the artist's 1967 exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In the catalogue essay, Diane Waldman traces the rise of Cornell's artistic career, his Surrealist contemporaries, and the influence of film and theater on his art. She notes that Cornell's three-dimensional box structures have "the ability to maintain a dialectical tension between the painterly and the sculptural." The catalogue also includes a bibliography and 28 color and black-and-white reproductions of his boxes and collages.


In speaking of a frame for one of his collages, Cornell mentioned that he wanted a Victorian frame to "take it out of this time." Indeed, the frame of each construction is considered in relation to its contents. The idea of the box as a frame establishes an awareness of the frontality of the images and, in this sense, the work enters the domain of painting. The frames themselves, with their carefully missing corners, the over-all attention to the surface of the box, and the very real existence of the objects contained within, re-situate the work within the context of the sculptural. His space is the illusionistic space of a painter, re-created in three-dimensional terms. One thinks of painters, particularly Vermeer, in relation to Cornell. It is this ability to maintain a dialectical tension between the painterly and the sculptural that is unique to his work.

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