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Joseph Cornell and the American Museum of Art

February 11, 2007

Retrospectives are an important way to get to know or revisit an artist. Singularly, a work of art can be meaningful, beautiful, inspiring, provoking or whatever emotion it may illicit but when seen enmass there is something so really large that you can be a part of.

Joseph Cornell is a collector. He is a collector and an assembler of interesting, small, unique, found, manufactured and original objects. Smallish dioramas are what he is all about. Commonly a box of found wood is adorned with papers, photos, stamps, cloth and paint. Inside the box will be a collection of objects arranged to showcase a shadow (real or faux), a idea or philosophy or just a strange arrangement meant to make you laugh. Mr. Cornell was very fond of marbles, birds, wire, sheet music, dolls, glass figurines, plastic jewelery, rubber bouncy balls and greeting cards. Everything inside a diorama will be easily recognized and identified and so it makes his art very easy to look at and take in. What is shocking and slightly sly is the humor and drama he creates inside such an unassumingly small space. His boxes remind me of going through your grandmothers house and finding a box of treasures. Treasures because you know that each object was used or intended for a different life but the artist gives each treasure a new life inside a small world contained within a box.

This exhibit is a travelling show and I highly recommend that you go and see it. It is in D.C. at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum (a great place even without the Cornell exhibit–Presidential Portrait Gallery, Lots of American contemporary/modern art, outsider art/folk art and is a warren of arty delight. It is off the mall between F and G streets. Next this show is in Boston somewhere, so check it out!

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