The Meticulous Dreamworld of Joseph Cornell

Soap Bubble Box, originally uploaded by Coilhouse.

The magical curio cabinets and collages of Joseph Cornell make me pine for a Manhattan I never knew, for all things mildewed, dusty and indigo-hued, for faded starlets and forgotten prima ballerinas, and for constellations I have never seen.

Born towards the end of the Victorian era in upstate NY, reclusive Cornell never ventured any further than New England, but his body of work reveals an inner world of incalcuable depth. Inspired in equal parts by the penny arcades of his youth and the grandiose vision of the Dada/Surrealists, Cornell spent a lonely lifetime trawling L.E.S. flea markets and secondhand bookstores for nostalgic scraps of yesteryear. Whatever the medium (diorama, film collage, decoupage), each piece reflects the inexorable drive of a compulsive scavenger/architect to coax meaning and narrative –however mysterious– from discarded scraps of the past.

Whether you’ve never heard of a “Soap Bubble Box” or his work is old hat to you, you’ll be awestruck by the SF Moma‘s vast Cornell retrospective. If you find yourself in town between now and January 6th, put aside a good three hours and wander as I did, blissfully flummoxed, through the cluttered ouevre of a Very Singularly Strange Bird.

2 Responses to “The Meticulous Dreamworld of Joseph Cornell”

  1. zoetica Says:

    Fantastic work. I’ve come across some of his pieces in my art studies as a yoof and have always been impressed and endeared with the meticulous care he took with each piece, as well at the themes. Now, to San Francisco!

  2. Twosixtee Says:

    I’ve always loved his work. Doubly loved it’s inclusion in Mona Lisa Overdrive.