Joseph Cornell- A World Inside the Box

Joseph Cornell was a pioneer and one of the most successful creators of assemblage. His work has an immense sense of wonder and hidden beauty. Despite having no formal training in creating art, the masterpieces Cornell created are still looked upon with respect and are the harmonious union of assemblage and surrealism. Although the two art themes are very conflicting, Cornell managed to bring them together in a way that amazed art critics. He also contributed in surrealist films with his paintings.balloon

The most popular and most amazing of his art works are his “boxes”. Through his artistic genius, Cornell successfully created an amalgamation of moods and pictures in small simple boxes. The artist finds beauty in the commonplace with ease, placing everyday objects in a different light for the audience. These objects however, are not trash or cheap but the fragments of faded away beauty and precious collectables. The artist had several Surrealist friends and the influence is easily observable in his artwork as he ushers memories from the past along with irrational juxtaposition in his work.


One of Cornell’s highest recognised work is Soap Bubble Set, created in his early art years in the 1930s. It was made for the Museum of Modern Art and was also his first attempt at a shadow box. Despite trying, the objects in this shadow box seem vague and unrelated and are a classical Cornell Juxtaposition. The objects contained in this box are a doll’s head, a glass, bubble pipe, and a picture of the leaning tower of Pisa. Some critics have interupted that the box is in fact a portrait of Cornell’s family, where he’s the doll head, his mum is’s the egg, his dad the clay pipe and the blocks at the top of the picture depict him along with his siblings.


I find Joseph Cornell’s work very interesting. Though I don’t have a very highbrow sense of art, I find art beyond paintings and sculptures very liberating. Ironically, even though Cornell’s art is confined in boxes, it allows the onlooker to look at it from a million different perspectives. I also think that it’s absolutely remarkable, how Cornell managed to transform a box- usually associated with confinement, into something that sends the imagination on a rollercoaster ride.  By leaving seemingly irrelevant things together in a box, sometimes from different eras altogether, Cornell gives the audience a chance to interpret whatever they want and relate to their own lives. I also really enjoy the sense of nostalgia and bittersweet feelings his boxes bring. Even though at the first glance if found the objects unrelated, on closer inspection they evoked feelings and memories and I was able to look at my life through it. I find his work very poetic, like an exceptionally well written bedtime story which allows its characters to achieve amazing feats. With so much scientific innovations and more and more tolerance towards surprise, Cornell is able to give back a sense to wonder to the everyday objects we see as a backdrop to our lives.