An early pioneer in assemblage art, Joseph Cornell was deeply inspired by the unexpected compositions of Surrealism, whose practitioners sought to channel the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Cornell collected Victorian bric-a-brac, old photographs, dime-store trinkets, and other found elements, which he developed into extraordinary compositions that are as intriguing as they are elegant in their intimate presentation. By arranging his tableaux in small boxes or picture frames, the artist forces the viewer to lean in and look closely at these miniature worlds. Addressing recurrent themes, such as childhood, space, and birds, through unlikely juxtapositions and attention to texture and detail, Cornell turned everyday objects into mysterious treasures full of memory, wonder, and fantasy. While his work was considered avant-garde at the time of its creation—hovering between the twilight of Abstract Expressionism and the onset of Pop art—it also evokes a feeling of nostalgia.
Label from Giant Steps: Artists and the 1960s, June 30–December 30, 2018