Nyack (Nueva York), 1903 – Flushing (Long Island), 1972
Escultor estadounidense. Su aprendizaje no es el de un artista convencional: es considerado un autodidacta.
En 1925, y gracias a una exposición, conoce la obra de Picasso, Derain y Rousseau.
A principios de los años treinta entra en contacto con los collages de Max Ernst y con los trabajos de otros surrealistas en la galería de J. Lévy.
Su trabajo más original son sus cajas de cristal: cajas que sirven de soporte a colecciones de curiosidades románticas o victorianas, en las que se combina la austeridad formal del constructivismo con la fantasía del surrealismo, remitiendo su obra a la ensoñación.
Considerado como precursor y pionero en el arte del assemblage, sus construcciones reflejan una meditación personal cargada de riqueza poética.
Joseph Cornell (December 24, 1903 – December 29, 1972) was an American artist and sculptor, one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. Influenced by the Surrealists, he was also an avant-garde experimental filmmaker. He lived in New York City for most of his life, in a wooden frame house on Utopia Parkway in a working-class area in Flushing, Queens. He lived there with his mother and his brother, Robert, who was disabled by cerebral palsy. Cornell attended Phillips Academy, Andover, in the Class of 1921.
Cornell's most characteristic art works were boxed assemblages created from found objects. These are simple boxes, usually glass-fronted, in which he arranged surprising collections of photographs or Victorian bric-à-brac, in a way that combines the formal austerity of Constructivism with the lively fantasy of Surrealism. Many of his boxes, such as the famous Medici Slot Machine boxes, are interactive and are meant to be handled.
Like Kurt Schwitters Cornell could create poetry from the commonplace. Unlike Schwitters, however, he was fascinated not by refuse, garbage, and the discarded, but by fragments of once beautiful and precious objects he found on his frequent trips to the bookshops and thrift stores of New York. His boxes relied on the Surrealist technique of irrational juxtaposition, and on the evocation of nostalgia, for their appeal. Cornell never regarded himself as a Surrealist; although he admired the work and technique of Surrealists like Max Ernst and René Magritte, he disavowed the Surrealists' "black magic," claiming that he only wished to make white magic with his art. Cornell's fame as the leading American "Surrealist" allowed him to befriend several members of the Surrealist movement when they settled in the USA during the Second World War. Later he was claimed as a herald of pop art and installation art.
In addition to creating boxes and flat collages and making short art films, Cornell also kept a filing system of over 160 visual-documentary "dossiers" on themes that interested him; the dossiers served as repositories from which Cornell drew material and inspiration for boxes like his "penny arcade" portrait of Lauren Bacall. He had no formal training in art, although he was extremely widely read and was conversant with the New York art scene from the 1940s through to the 1960s.
Cornell was heavily influenced by American Transcendentalists, Hollywood starlets (to whom he sent boxes he had dedicated to them), the French Symbolists such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Gerard de Nerval, and great dancers of the 19th century ballet such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Cerrito.
Also captivated with birds, Cornell created the “Aviaries” in the mid-1940s to the ’50s, and involved cutouts of colorful images of various birds set against harsh white backgrounds.