Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell

Nyack, Rockland County, New York, USA
Death 29 Dec 1972 (aged 69)
Flushing, Queens County, New York, USA
Burial Nyack, Rockland County, New York, USA
Memorial ID 234 · View Source
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Avant-garde Sculptor, Filmaker. A pioneer of assemblage art, he is noted for his boxes created with collages and found objects. He took old photographs, images of exotic birds, bits of fabric, miniature toys, and other discarded bric-a-brac and arranged them into enigmatic compositions. A typical Cornell box is fronted with glass and evokes an overall feeling of nostalgia. They include "Tilly Losch" (c. 1935), "Object" (1940), "Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery" (1943), "The Hotel Eden" (1945), "Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall" (1946), and "Cockatoo with Watch Faces" (c. 1949). He also applied this collage style to a unique body of experimental short films. Cornell was born in Nyack, New York, and studied at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He had no formal art training. For most of his life his lived with his mother and disabled brother in a frame house in Flushing, Queens, crafting his assemblages in his basement studio. Although he was considered a reclusive eccentric, he made daily trips to Manhattan's used book and junk shops to gather materials for his work, and was well-versed in local creative trends. Art dealer Julien Levy discovered Cornell's early efforts in 1931 and gave him his first solo show the following year. His star began to rise after the Museum of Modern Art included him in a major 1938 exhibition. Some of his boxes were homages to famous women he idolized from afar and his first venture into film, the landmark "Rose Hobart" (1936), was a tribute to the eponymous Hollywood actress. He took a 16mm silent print of one of Hobart's B pictures, "East of Borneo" (1931), extracted 20 minutes of seemingly random shots, and reassembled those into a feverish dreamlike sequence. An existing movie had never been manipulated to such poetic effect before. During the initial run of "Rose Hobart" at the Levy Gallery, Surrealist painter Salvador Dali flew into a rage over it and accused Cornell of stealing his ideas, at least "subconsciously". Horrified by the incident, Cornell continued to experiment in the medium but refused to show his films in public again until the 1960s. Among them are "Curtains of June", "Aviary", "Nymphlight", "Flushing Meadows", and "A Legend for Fountains". Filmakers Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Ken Jacobs are among those who cited his works as influences. In his last years Cornell gradually abandoned box art for more traditional two-dimensional collage. He died of heart failure at his Flushing home. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected "Rose Hobart" for preservation in the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 234
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Joseph Cornell (24 Dec 1903–29 Dec 1972), Find a Grave Memorial no. 234, citing Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, Rockland County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .