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Joseph Cornell

American, 1903–1972

Soap Bubble Set (Ostend Hotel), ca. 1958

Construction and collage
8 x 16 1/2 x 3 3/8 inches (20.3 x 41.9 x 8.6 cm)
Edmund Hayes Fund, 1971

Art © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Using objects collected from many different contexts, especially the antiquarian bookstores and shops of New York City, Joseph Cornell created unique assemblages that intrigue viewers with their elegance, enigma, and intimacy. The small size of his boxes forces viewers to look closely, and in doing so discover that within these small spaces entire worlds have been created—worlds full of mystery that invite us to use our imagination. Part of the enigma is the combination of past and present—while the process Cornell used was avant-garde at the time, the works themselves evoke a feeling of nostalgia we cannot quite define.

Cornell was obsessed with the past, especially the Victorian era in the middle and third quarter of the nineteenth century, with its cluttered rooms filled with bric-a-brac covering all available open space. He particularly liked the toys and games that filled Victorian parlors, including soap bubble sets, which could be what the title of this work references.

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