Posts Tagged ‘American sculptor

25
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Exhibition dates: 4th July – 27th September 2015

The Sackler Wing of Galleries

 

 

Hans Namuth. 'Joseph Cornell' 1969

 

Hans Namuth (American born Germany, 1915-1990)
Joseph Cornell
1969
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© 1991 Hans Namuth Estate

 

 

Now, Voyager

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“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892). “Untold Want,” from Leaves of Grass. 1900

 

Joseph Cornell is my favourite artist who has ever lived on this Earth. I do not make this observation lightly, but after much consideration, thought and reflection.

I have always loved his work, from the very first time I saw it in a book. To then see a recreation of one of his 1950s exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 was one of those seminal moments where you are lifted out of yourself, where your life becomes forever changed. For me that transcendent experience is up there with being alone with the Rembrandt portraits in the Louvre for 10 precious minutes. Both were among the most exquisite, poignant and beautiful spiritual experiences I have had in my life.

I am not an expert on Cornell, although I have read many books on his work and on his spirituality. He saw himself as an “armchair voyager”, a bit like a latter day Baudelaire, a man who has romantic notions of travel but never actually goes anywhere, who has romantic notions of love but never finds it, except in his imagination. Cornell never left his native New York. Cornell expressed his self through a passion for the artefacts he collected, through his assemblage of those artefacts into magical boxes that addressed unrequited love and faith – for Hollywood and movie stars, ballerinas, hotels, birds, the Renaissance, princes and princesses, the stars, games and chance. He was an avid collector, rummaging through the junk shops of New York and storing his collectibles for his art, something to which I have an affinity, being an avid op shopper (or thrift shopper) myself.

Here I can see an association with the words of Walt Whitman in his lines “Untold Want” from Leaves of Grass, those lines forming the title for the book upon which the film Now Voyager (1942) with Better Davis was based. “The untold want” of Whitman’s lines are whatever you yearn for and cannot get in the social context (“life”) and place (“land”) where you are born. Whitman says, stop “studying the charts,” and “now obey, thy cherish’d, secret wish,” – in other words he’s saying that your heart’s desire is the best indicator of where your destiny lies, but it is possible to miss out on it by not going for it. Fast forward to Now Voyager where frumpy Bette Davis has an affair with a married man, becomes independent, defies her tyrannical mother who promptly dies, and ends up circuitously looking after her lover’s daughter. They decide to have a platonic relationship “sustaining a romantic, unconsummated relationship and creating a ‘family’ by becoming the surrogate, adoptive care-giver for his daughter.”

There is a specific desire here. Davis and Whitman are freed to love without restriction in a romantic way, and after the end of Now Voyager, perhaps Cornell is channelling Bette Davis. He loved in his mind, he created boxes in his imagination (and then physically), he astral travelled through the stars, he created games of chance (such as penny arcades and slot machines) and shooting galleries (that exposed his inner mind) letting the air rush out into the world. He created surreality itself but he was never surreal, for his work is always based on the collision of realities. His boxes are tiny cosmos, like the Tardis from Dr Who, the interior (under a microscope, within four walls) larger than the exterior … yet, magically, they inhabit the whole world, they inhabit our mind. He used the alchemical reaction of elements, the elementary, to affect travel, love, life and change. And he did it in four dimensions for his boxes affect us as much today as he did when he created them. Perhaps that is why I like his work so much… he used seemingly mundane materials, multi/media objects, imagination and love to let’s our spirits soar into the universe. No other artist has ever affected me so much. No one ever will.

Undeniably, Cornell’s poetic theatres are joyous creations that free our soul from the everyday.

Perhaps it is through love, or in death, or the afterlife, that the Voyager can seek that untold want.

 

My Mind to me a Kingdom Is

Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607)

1 My mind to me a kingdom is;
2 Such perfect joy therein I find
3 That it excels all other bliss
4 Which God or nature hath assign’d.
5 Though much I want that most would have,
6 Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

7 No princely port, nor wealthy store,
8 No force to win a victory,
9 No wily wit to salve a sore,
10 No shape to win a loving eye;
11 To none of these I yield as thrall, –
12 For why? my mind despise them all.

13 I see that plenty surfeit oft,
14 And hasty climbers soonest fall;
15 I see that such as are aloft
16 Mishap doth threaten most of all.
17 These get with toil and keep with fear;
18 Such cares my mind can never bear.

19 I press to bear no haughty sway,
20 I wish no more than may suffice,
21 I do no more than well I may,
22 Look, what I want my mind supplies.
23 Lo ! thus I triumph like a king,
24 My mind content with anything.

25 I laugh not at another’s loss,
26 Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
27 No worldly waves my mind can toss;
28 I brook that is another’s bane.
29 I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend,
30 I loathe not life, nor dread mine end.

31 My wealth is health and perfect ease,
32 And conscience clear my chief defence;
33 I never seek by bribes to please,
34 Nor by desert to give offence.
35 Thus do I live, thus will I die, –
36 Would all did so as well as I!

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Royal Academy of Arts for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art work. The excellent, educational text was written by Asha McLoughlin, Learning Department © Royal Academy of Arts.

 

 

 

Bette Davis ~ Don’t Let’s Ask For The Moon (Now Voyager 1942)

 

 

“Cornell was a voyager, travelling through space and time to dimensions of the imagination and the spirit. He infused this sense of adventure and an infinite beyond into modestly scaled works whose fragments of reality give way to worlds to be explored.”

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Robert Lehrman, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

“White is just what I mean. Not monstrously, but in wonderful variations. All I want to perform is white magic.”

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Joseph Cornell quoted in Tracking the Marvellous: A Life in the New York Art World, John Bernard Myers, 1984

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'The Cornell family' c. 1915

 

Unidentified photographer
The Cornell family
c. 1915
Joseph Cornell (far right) with his parents (Joseph I. Cornell, Sr. and Helen Storms Cornell) and siblings (l to r: Elizabeth, Helen, and Robert)
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

 

Cornell's basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964

 

Cornell’s basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964
Collection Duff Murphy and Janice Miyahira. © Terry Schutté.

 

 

“What kind of man is this, who, from old brown cardboard photographs collected in second-hand bookstores, has reconstructed the nineteenth century “grand tour” of Europe for his mind’s eye more vividly than those who took it, who was not born then and has never been abroad, who knows Vesuvius’s look on a certain morning of AD 79, and of the cast-iron balconies of that hotel in Lucerne?”

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Robert Motherwell on Joseph Cornell, Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, 1993

 

“He uses selected, sought-for, desired objects. He must have been clipping all the time, poring through magazines, collecting things and haunting junk shops and flea markets, looking for the images that corresponded to his imagination.”

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Susan Sontag, Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box, directed by Mark Stokes, 1991

 

 

Lee Miller. 'Joseph Cornell, New York' 1933

 

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977)
Joseph Cornell, New York
1933
Vintage photograph. ‘Joseph Cornell, New York Studio, New York, USA 1933’ by Lee Miller (96-2)
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Schooner)' 1931

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Schooner)
1931

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]' c.1934

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]
c. 1934
Collage with ink on paper
14 x 18.6cm
Drs. Steven and Sara Newman. Photo Collection of Drs. Steven and Sara Newman, Chicago, Illinois, USA
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (M'lle Faretti)' 1933

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (M’lle Faretti)
1933
Box construction
27.9 x 20.3 x 5.1cm
Private Collection
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1936

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1936
Box construction

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Object (Soap Bubble Set) (detail)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Pharmacy
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Pharmacy (detail)
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Palace' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Palace
1943
Box construction
Glass-paned, stained wood box with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, spray-painted twigs, wood and shaved bark
26.7 x 50.5 x 13cm
The Menil Collection, Houston
Photo: The Menil Collection, Houston. Photography: Hickey-Robertson
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Tilly Losch)' c. 1935-38

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Tilly Losch)
c. 1935-38
Box Construction
25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4cm
Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo: The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Creative filing
Creative arranging
As poetics
As technique
As joyous creation”

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Joseph Cornell, diary entry, 9 March 1959

 

“On the way to ART OF THIS CENTURY from Julien’s, carrying De Medici girl Slot Machine and bird with cracked glass saw Marlene Dietrich in polo coat and black beanie cap on back of hair waiting at curb of Jay Thorpe’s for a taxi. First time I’d seen her off screen and brought an unexpectedly elated feeling. Working in cellar that night on Soap Bubble Set the green glass locket portrait of her on the floor evoked very special feelings.”

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Joseph Cornell, diary entry, spring 1944

 

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

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Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)' c. 1940-42

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)
c. 1940-42
Box construction
3.5 x 7.6cm
The Collection of Marguerite and Robert Hoffman
Photo: Brad Flowers
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Owl Habitat)' c. mid- to late 1940s

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Owl Habitat)
c. mid- to late 1940s
Collection Jasper Johns Photo Collection Jasper Johns
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Some of his boxes are less cryptic, and more naturalistic, such as Untitled (Owl Habitat), from the 1940s. The snowy owl trapped behind a pane of glass is not a fancy piece of taxidermy fit for a natural history diorama, but a mere paper illustration pasted onto plywood. The midnight-blue forest the owl inhabits is contrived from painted bark and lichen. Cornell, of course, was himself a famous night owl. In some ways the owl box can seem as close as he ever came to self-portraiture, with its majestic creature alone in the woods, eyes wide, watching.”

Deborah Solomon, May 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery
1943
Mixed media
39.4 x 28.3 x 10.8cm
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1975.27
Photo: Collection of the Des Moines Art Center
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Soap Bubble Set' 1948

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Soap Bubble Set
1948
Box construction
36.8 x 52.1 x 9.8cm
Mr. and Mrs. John Stravinsky
Photo © 2014 Christie’s Images Limited
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York
Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (detail)
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York
Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Medici Princess)' c. 1948

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Medici Princess)
c. 1948
Box construction
44.8 x 28.3 x 11.1cm
Private collection, New York
Photo courtesy private collection, New York
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell and travel

The title of our Joseph Cornell exhibition is Wanderlust. Curator Sarah Lea describes how this theme is closely linked to Cornell’s artistic practice, and his travels of the imagination.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Celestial Navigation)' 1956-58

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Celestial Navigation)
1956-58
Box construction
30.8 x 43.2 x 9.2cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), born on Christmas Eve in Nyack, New York, remains one of the most enigmatic yet influential American artists of the twentieth century. Almost entirely self-taught as an artist, Cornell lived quietly for most of his life with his mother and younger brother, crafting in the confines of his basement or on the kitchen table the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known.

He rarely travelled, and almost never left New York, yet his work, based on collage and assemblage, resonates with references to foreign places and distant times. In the course of his life he befriended ballerinas, film stars, poets and generations of world-famous artists. He showed in a succession of New York galleries, participated in landmark group shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was honoured before he died with major surveys at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

A popular romanticised image of Cornell pervades as an ascetic outsider – a shy, eccentric man yearning for intimacy, unable to converse with the women who enthralled him but with a vibrant interior life of daydreams and an imagination capable of crossing oceans, centuries and the celestial realm. Yet this mythologised version of the man belies his active interest in the art movements of his time, and the innovative nature of his creations which have paved the way for today’s appropriation and installation artists, contemporary collage and archive based practices.

This exhibition at the Royal Academy brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable shadow boxes, assemblages, collages and films, including many works held in private collections and a number never seen before outside of the USA. The first major UK exhibition solely devoted to Cornell in almost 35 years, it presents a rare chance to experience a concentrated survey of his oeuvre, and to journey inside the mind of an artist who described himself as ‘an armchair voyager’. The ‘wanderlust’ referenced in the exhibition title – the desire to explore and travel the world – is central to Cornell’s art, as was his penchant for collecting and his astonishingly wide-ranging interests. His creations transport the viewer into private universes, populated with objects and ephemera imbued with personal associations.

From a basement in New York, Joseph Cornell channelled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century. Step into his beguiling world at this landmark exhibition. Cornell hardly ventured beyond New York State, yet the notion of travel was central to his art. His imaginary voyages began as he searched Manhattan’s antique bookshops and dime stores, collecting a vast archive of paper ephemera and small objects to make his signature glass-fronted ‘shadow boxes’. These miniature masterpieces transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures. Together they reveal his fascination with subjects from astronomy and cinema to literature and ornithology and especially his love of European culture, from the Romantic ballet to Renaissance Italy.

Wanderlust brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, some never before seen outside the USA. Entirely self-taught, the independence of Cornell’s creative voice won the admiration of artists from Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists, to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, with echoes of his work felt in Pop and Minimalist art. Wanderlust is a long overdue celebration of an incomparable artist, a man the New York Times called “a poet of light; an architect of memory-fractured rooms and a connoisseur of stars, celestial and otherwise.”

 

Early Life

Joseph Cornell was the eldest of four children – he had two sisters, Elizabeth and Helen, and a brother, Robert, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. When Cornell was thirteen, his father died of leukaemia and Robert became Joseph’s responsibility (partly to assuage their overbearing mother). Robert however was a cheerful child and took pleasure in drawing and collecting model trains. Cornell considered Robert to be a pure soul, and willingly took on his brother’s care. A salesman and textile designer, Cornell’s father had left considerable debts for his family to manage and for several years Cornell’s mother was forced to take odd jobs to support the family, and move them into a succession of smaller rented houses. In 1917, with the help of his father’s former employer, Joseph was able to enrol at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts: a highly regarded private school. There he discovered an interest in American and European literature, poetry, history and French. Yet, away from his close knit family and after the relatively recent death of his father, Cornell struggled and was a mediocre student. He developed the first in a lifelong series of nervous crises and stomach problems, and left the Academy in 1921 without graduating.

Upon his return home, Cornell assumed the role of ‘man of the house’ and became a sample salesman in his father’s trade for a wholesale textile business, the William Whitman Company on lower Madison Avenue. Cornell found the job mundane and himself unsuited to its demands. In his twenties, a time when the stress of supporting his family was exacerbating his stomach ailments, he converted to Christian Science. This religion teaches that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion, so disease and other afflictions associated with the physical body are thought to be manifestations of a troubled mind that ought to be treated with prayer, not medicine. Joseph remained an active member until his death and recruited his brother Robert and sister Elizabeth into the fold.

In 1929, Mrs Cornell moved the family to an unassuming house at 3708 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, New York. Here, Cornell would live with his mother and brother until he died. His main escape from the tedium of domestic life and the awkward social interactions thrust upon him at work was to walk the city streets in his lunch hour, browsing the second-hand bookshops on Fourth Avenue, the flea markets and dime stores, collecting keepsakes and scavenging for relics and once-precious fragments of other people’s lives. Cornell loved to explore Manhattan and the ‘teeming life of the metropolis’, which seemed to him the epitome of glamour. These wanderings led to Cornell amassing a vast personal archive of treasured finds – books, prints, postcards and three-dimensional ephemera such as clay pipes and watch springs – often tinged with the romance of foreign places and the nostalgia of times past, which would in due course form the material elements of the very personal poetry that is his art.

 

Play and Experiment

Although he did not complete his formal education, Cornell was extremely well read and kept abreast of Manhattan’s literary, musical and artistic events. Not only did he regularly attend the theatre and the ballet, but he also became an avid cinema-goer, thriving on the excitement of the city. Indeed, Cornell often waited at the stage door of theatres and opera houses for a glimpse of the female performers he idolised. He also spent time in art galleries, and in 1931 at the Julien Levy Gallery he came across collages by Max Ernst (1891-1976), a pioneer of Surrealism, who combined high art and popular imagery in his work.

Although Cornell was never officially part of the Surrealist movement and came to dismiss Surrealist associations with his own practice, it had a major influence on him, most notably inspiring his embrace of unexpected juxtapositions in his assemblages and his experimental films, like Rose Hobart (1936). Rejecting Surrealism’s more violent and erotic aspects – the shock effect of jarring images – Cornell preferred instead what he described as the ‘white magic’ side of Surrealism, and the poetic connections between everyday objects.

By 1931 Cornell had shifted from simply collecting objects to creating them. He began to make collages and assemblages first in a style resembling Max Ernst’s, then in his own manner. The basis of collage – piecing together and assembling – would be central to Cornell’s works throughout his life, be they two- or three-dimensional. At this early stage he took images from the dense dossiers of engravings and clippings that he had accumulated by this time, fashioning compositions from seemingly unrelated cutout images to create whimsical pairings, which often revealed his dual interests in science and the world of children. Both these themes would recur and overlap throughout his career…

After viewing a number of Cornell’s small surreal collages, such as Untitled (Schooner), 1931, Julien Levy invited him to show in his exhibition, Surréalisme, which opened in January 1932. Later, Levy offered Cornell a solo show, the first of several that were held at his gallery. Entitled Objects by Joseph Cornell: Minutiae, Glass Bells, Shadow Boxes, Coups d’Oeil, Jouets Surréalistes, it included a series of collages and small three-dimensional objects such as bell jars and pillboxes. All the works were made at his kitchen table at night as his mother and brother slept.

Uneasy about his work being associated with Surrealism, Cornell later wrote to Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and organiser of the 1936 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, in which Cornell’s work was to feature: “In the event that you are saying a word or two about my work in the catalogue, I would appreciate your saying that I do not share in the subconscious and dream theories of the Surrealists. While fervently admiring much of their work I have never been an official Surrealist, and I believe that Surrealism has healthier possibilities than have been developed.” Regardless of Cornell’s own attempt to distance himself from the movement, Surrealism provided him, at least, with a context in which he could make his collages and objets, and understand them as deserving of a mature and discerning audience.

Around this time, Cornell encountered the collages and box constructions of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), composed of urban detritus, and the ‘readymades’ of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), which are ordinary, unaltered manufactured objects designated by the artist to be works of art. In Duchamp, Cornell discovered an unlikely friend; the two regularly corresponded throughout their lifetime. When Duchamp visited New York in the 1940s, he enlisted Cornell to help him with a new project, a miniature ‘museum’ of his work, known as the Boîte-en-valise or ‘box in a suitcase’. Cornell already had his own ‘valise’ experiment, Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice).

 

Collecting and Classification

In the 1930s, Cornell began to make the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known – glass-fronted box constructions containing intimately-scaled arrangements of found objects and paper ephemera, assembled in a sort of three-dimensional collage. The 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at MoMA, New York, showed one of his first shadow boxes, Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) (above). This was the first in a long series of the same name and recalls the children’s pastime of blowing bubbles, as well as the eighteenth-century European painting association of bubbles as memento mori, a reminder of the transience of life. Precisely what led Cornell to the idea of the box remains unclear. In a Life magazine article from 1967 he said that it came to him during one of his walks through Manhattan, as he passed a collection of compasses in the window of an antique shop:

“I thought, everything can be used in a lifetime, can’t it, and went on walking. I’d scarcely gone two blocks when I came on another shop window full of boxes, all different kinds […] Halfway home on the train that night, I thought of the compasses and boxes, it occurred to me to put the two together.”

Before Cornell developed his own carpentry skills, his early shadow boxes were housed in prefabricated, semi-antique wooden boxes, popular during the Victorian era for displaying small paintings, ship models, ladies’ handiwork and mementoes. In the nineteenth century, a similar tradition existed in China, where hardwood boxes with sliding glass covers and papered or silk-lined interiors were used to display fine ceramics, especially figurines made for export. Cornell’s approach also recalls European traditions that began to appear in his research dossiers during the 1930s: small seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish kunstschranke or kunstkammer – cabinets that housed separate elements assembled to represent the world in miniature. In the mid 1930s, Cornell’s neighbour Carl Backman taught him some basic carpentry skills, which allowed him to construct his own boxes. The boxes are often hard to date accurately, as Cornell would tinker with and refine his constructions over several years, returning to them gradually. However, except for his early boxes which tend to be singular, we can see patterns emerging in his practice as he worked on larger ‘families’ of works that share discernible visual motifs, often unfolding over a decade or more. These series include: ‘Hotels’, ‘Pharmacies’, ‘Aviaries’, ‘Dovecotes’, ‘Observatories’ and ‘Night Skies’.

The ‘Pharmacy’ assemblages, with their compartmentalised structures and associations with collection and classification – a nod to the ordered world of museum display – are a good illustration of one of Cornell’s ‘families’. Here, in this early example of a series that stretched over a decade with at least six similar works, we see a small specimen case containing four ordered rows of five glass jars. Its title appears to refer to medicine and healing, yet as a practising Christian Scientist, Cornell was forbidden to take medicine. Instead, in this miniature apothecary, he has created tonics for the soul and the imagination, with each fragile jar containing an object or substance that has poetic connotations – shells and sand for travel, feathers, delicate butterfly wings, tiny snippets of parchment. The interior is lined with mirrors, creating echoing reflections of the jars that line the shelves. Though its contents may seem trivial, each jar is imbued with significance, its humble items elevated and made precious through the language of their display. Looking into this box, we see a world of associations, nostalgia and elusive meaning.

By the time Cornell created Pharmacy, he had stopped working, and was pursuing his art full time. From this point on, Cornell regularly exhibited and sold his artwork. He also did freelance design work and picture research for magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden. He set up a workshop and storage area in the basement of the house on Utopia Parkway. Working in his new studio, which he sometimes referred to as his ‘laboratory’, Cornell was able to conceive works with more complex craftsmanship than he had been able to do when working at the kitchen table. While most days were spent at home, he would still escape into New York in search of inspiration and to visit friends. A keen diarist, he would sit in Manhattan coffee shops, indulging his notorious sweet tooth with sugary snacks while furiously scribbling notes on scraps of paper that would later be typed up into more formal diary entries.

As well as being an avid people-watcher, Cornell enjoyed ornithology and expressed his love of birds in the ‘Aviary’ and ‘Habitat’ series, which speak of their exoticism and beauty. Birds often symbolise freedom, their flight paths linking the heavens and the earth. In myths and religion, small birds in particular have been used to represent the souls of children freed from their earthly bonds.

While visually distinct from the ‘Pharmacy’ series, Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery (above) continues the theme of arrangement and classification in Cornell’s work, with the cut-out illustrations of macaws, a parrot and a cockatoo mounted like museum specimens or dioramas against a bright white background. However, this dynamic construction has an uncharacteristic aura of violence, and contrasts with other pieces where the box is seen as a safe environment in which objects could be placed, secure and cherished. In this case, the glass that protects the sanctuary of the box has been cracked, its contents exposed to external elements. The central ‘bullet hole’ directly in front of the cockatoo’s crown acts as a focal point for the assemblage, guiding our eye in and then out to the four corners of the box. Bold splashes of colour convey a sense of theatricality and drama (Cornell referred to some of his boxes as ‘poetic theatres’), and the game counters placed over each bird evoke the targets of shooting galleries in penny arcades. Scattered feathers at the bottom of the construction, the shot glass and splotches of paint all suggest a violent event. In a rare moment of political commentary in Cornell’s work, this habitat serves as a metaphor for the horrors of the Second World War, with the birds embodying the innocence of victims caught up in the destruction of war.

 

Observation and Exploration

One of the great paradoxes in Cornell’s life was the gulf between the multitudinous references in his work to distant times and foreign places, and the fact that he himself never physically left the USA. He was a devotee of nineteenth century European culture and a collector of Baedeker Guides (to travel, published in the 1830s), timetables and travel literature, yet he never went abroad – not because he didn’t have the means to do so but because, as one commentator noted, he ‘preferred the ticket to the trip’, which makes his evocation of a traveller’s sense of wanderlust even more remarkable. Cornell let dreams of voyages, particularly to Europe, remain imagined and thus unrealised, preserving his reveries in the same fashion as his glass-fronted boxes. Recurring often in his work are poignant emblems of transience and travel – birds, celestial maps, exotic-sounding hotels and luggage tags – but they remain frozen in their boxed confinement. Thus, fittingly, the central paradox in Cornell’s life found expression in the very medium for which he is now best known.

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

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Cornell also dreamed of celestial navigation and was fascinated by the night sky and planets. In Soap Bubble Set (1948, below), Cornell arranged fragments collected during his Manhattan wanderings against the backdrop of an antique lunar map, the roundness of the moon alluding to the titular spherical soap bubble. In his shadow boxes, soap bubbles came to symbolise the relationship between science and childhood imagination, knowledge and wonder, as well as serving as an allegory of vanitas and the ephemerality of life. White Dutch clay pipes, the signature motif of the ‘Soap Bubble’ series, are positioned symmetrically in side compartments, laid out like scientific instruments in a lab, gleaming against the dark velvet interior of the case. These pipes, used as toys for blowing bubbles, suggest the element air, while at a lower level a fragment of driftwood (probably scavenged by Cornell while beach combing on Long Island) grounds us in the natural world and hints at the weathering effects of wind and water over time. A cordial glass stands alone, delicate and vulnerable, empty in this construction but in others from this series cradling a marble, perhaps as a metaphor for forces securing the planets in place. At the top of the construction, the artist has hung a row of seven cylinders, the number possibly invoking the Copernican model of the solar system (in which seven planets orbit the Sun). The overall impression is of a poetic understanding of science, the infinity of space made bearable by the inclusion of objects whose culturally recognisable associations position us, along with Cornell, on Earth.

Ironically, Cornell’s first recorded response to the cosmos was fear. According to his sister Elizabeth, after having returned from school for the Christmas holidays, he woke her one night, ‘shaking like a leaf’, and stood at the window while confessing his anxiety about the concept of infinity. His concern translated to intrigue later in life and his shadow boxes abound with references to astronomy and space exploration. Cornell kept up to date with the latest scientific discoveries and was a keen stargazer, regularly observing the night sky from his backyard, or his kitchen window, sometimes referred to as his ‘observatory’.

In 1949, Cornell joined the Egan Gallery in New York, run by Charles Egan. Around this time we can see a fresh approach emerging in his work, as he branched away from the more theatrical Victorian constructs of his early career, which can appear comparatively dense. This may have been a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, a new movement developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) who used abstraction and gesture to convey expressive content. The Egan Gallery’s roster of artists included notable Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Franz Kline (1910-1962).

Cornell continued to explore themes of astronomy and celestial navigation in the ‘Observatory’, ‘Night Skies’, and ‘Hotel’ series (the latter also playing with the notion of a hotel as a microcosm of the wider world and, for Cornell, the universe). This work, Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (1954, above), combines many of the motifs prevalent in these series, yet is noticeably pared back. The deep, contemplative blue of the composition suggests a starry night sky, and the cracked, aged, white frame evokes the faded grandeur of forgotten European hotels, built for wealthy travellers between the 1880s and 1920s but now fallen into disrepair. Cornell scrapbooked the names of the hotels in this series from adverts in turn-of-the-century guidebooks to European cities.

Despite the smallness of the box, Cornell has created a sense of space within by foregrounding a delicate silver chain and white dowel against the rich starry expanse beyond. The female figure we see in the background is Andromeda, a character in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock as a sacrificial offering to a sea monster because her mother, Cassiopeia, had angered the sea god Poseidon and the Nereids by boasting of her and her daughter’s beauty. Andromeda was rescued from her plight by the hero Perseus, who then married her. Upon her death, she was placed in the skies as a constellation alongside her husband and her mother. Like her rescuer, Cornell has liberated Andromeda from the chains that bound her to the Earth. She is not attached to the silver chain, which both recalls the myth and suggests a ladder to the heavens. With the lightest touch, Cornell has skilfully created both the physical presence of a beautiful woman, and her heavenly equivalent as a constellation in the night sky.

As well as seeking inspiration across galaxies and the limitless expanses of space, Cornell would also delve into myth and history, both factual and personal, to seek out the characters who reside in his shadow boxes. In one of his most famous series, the ‘Medici Slot Machines’, Cornell superimposed memories of his own happy childhood (before his father’s death) onto reproductions of portraits of Medici princes and princesses by the Renaissance artists Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Bronzino (1503-1572) and Pinturicchio (1454-1513). By mixing his personal history (Cornell recalled with fondness the outings to penny arcades and shooting galleries of his youth) with these Florentine children, and further juxtaposing Old Master paintings with symbols of popular amusement, he created a mysterious world that contrasts high and low culture with haunting beauty.

This elegiac composition centres around Bronzino’s posthumous portrait of Bia de’ Medici. Bia, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, died from a fever aged 6, and Bronzino used her death mask as a model. Around her neck, she wears a medallion with her father’s profile on it. Cornell has effectively enshrined Bia in this box, simultaneously surrounded by the trappings of childhood (marbles, jacks, toy blocks), and, notably, the metal spirals of watch springs in the upper corners, which act as a metaphor for time cycles and life repeating itself. A bright red ball in front of the young girl attracts the viewer, as do the sightlines, mimicking the cross-hair targets of amusement park shooting galleries, which converge over one eye. Bia is flanked by columns, decorated with Baedeker maps of Italy, and further side compartments stacked with repeated images, like the spliced frames of a film, recalling Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) early sequences of animal and human movement, as well as foreshadowing Pop artist Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) multiple silkscreen homages to celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. There is a concealed drawer at the base of the box, containing a bundle of letters tied with thread, and a paper fan, perhaps a nod to the attributes of the courtly life of a princess. Cornell’s creations often included kinetic elements like marbles or toy balls, although they are seldom activated now, as the assemblages are too delicate. In this box, the unfixed objects placed around Bia accentuate her stillness and steady gaze. Perhaps because of the blue staining of the glass, we become more aware of the wall that separates us from this young girl, frozen in a world that we can look in upon, but not enter. She looks out at us directly, but is she imprisoned or merely on display?

“Peering into glass panelled boxes to inspect their contents is not unlike looking through a telescope in order to bring the distant closer. Windows, doors, compartments, drawers, cross-hair targets – all of these elements grant access or focus as we navigate the world Cornell has framed.”

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

That he visited the opera and the ballet in New York is not surprising, as his miniature dioramas also recall stage sets with a scenic and narrative quality. As Mary Ann Caws writes in Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, “Cornell’s shadow boxes invite us to peek, to peep, and finally to yield to our imagination… We meet in the confines of this tiny frame, this microcosm of complicity.” The boxes are filled with potential energy, as if just about to move, and are spaces in which multiple scales co-exist: time and history, the natural world and the cosmos. They are places of curious juxtaposition: take Untitled (Celestial Navigation) (1956-58, above), in which the universe is depicted through everyday objects.

 

Longing and Reverie

For Cornell, a relationship with a woman (other than his mother) seemed unattainable. He never married, and for him the female figure took on an elevated accumulation of hope and desire of almost mythic proportions. Throughout his life he developed obsessions with opera singers, waitresses, film stars, shop girls and most vividly, ballerinas (alive or dead). In the 1930s he discovered the international revival of the Romantic ballet, and spent the next 30 years exploring his fascination with the ‘queens of the dance’. His favourites included Romanticera prima ballerinas Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909), and their modern counterparts Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) and Allegra Kent (b. 1937). He also became good friends with Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957), the Russian Surrealist painter and set and costume designer who, as a well-known figure on the international dance scene, introduced Cornell to dancers and other balletomanes.

This box (Naples, 1942, below) is a tender homage to Fanny Cerrito, a nineteenth-century ballerina who captivated Cornell (he first came across her likeness in a bookstore on Fourth Avenue, on a souvenir lithograph from 1842). Cerrito was best known for her 1843 performance in Ondine, a ballet based on a fairy tale about a knight who falls in love with an ethereal water sprite. For her first entrance on stage, Cerrito posed in a giant cockleshell, rising up on a platform through the stage. In this assemblage, Cornell celebrates her birthplace of Naples, illustrating its famously narrow streets festooned with lines of laundry. The luggage label and the handle of the box, which recall a suitcase, give a sense of travel and distance, but the seashells propped up in the corners of the box and the faded sea-green paint that borders the scene speak to Cerrito’s most famous role.

Another example of Cornell’s devotional works is this stunningly austere piece entitled Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson (1953, below). The purity of this box and the inclusion of a grid-like structure recall the signature style of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a Minimalist artist who radically simplified the elements of painting to reflect the underlying spiritual order of the visible world that he believed in. Cornell admired Mondrian’s work and mentioned him in his 1946 diary: ‘Mondrian feeling strong. Feeling of progress and satisfaction.’

As the title suggests, this shadow box was created for the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), with whom Cornell felt a deep affinity. Like Cornell, Dickinson lived with her family, never travelled far from home or married, and translated her intense longing into her art. A withdrawn and enigmatic woman, she rarely left the upstairs bedroom in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she wrote her poems. Dickinson’s bedroom inspired the setting for this simple, white-washed box that resembles an abandoned aviary. At first, almost everything about this box suggests containment – the white mesh cage, the dowel perch and bird feeder – but we find no resident here. In fact, the mesh has been cut open and to the left we see a rectangle of clear, refreshing blue suggesting a window open to the sky – the infinite beyond into which our bird has flown. Emily Dickinson sometimes referred to herself as a ‘little wren’ and often, like Cornell, included birds in her work. Here, Cornell ensures that she has been set free, present only in spirit, with two small scraps of printed paper at the bottom of the case the only physical reminder of her presence. The empty box is silent, a vacuum left after the action has occurred. The title of this work comes from a poem by Dickinson that begins: ‘It might be lonelier / Without the Loneliness / I’m so accustomed to my Fate.’ It ends:

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –

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Here, Dickinson is asking whether longing is better than having, a question that clearly spoke to Cornell and his own deep-seated yearning. Better that dream remain imagined but unrealised, the poet advises, lest it disappoint. It seems these are words that Cornell heeded his entire life.

In the early 1960s, Cornell did finally break with tradition and became attached to a young woman, a New York waitress named Joyce Hunter. This was Cornell’s first real-life romance and he was dazzled by her, making her several gifts of his boxes and collages. Joyce eventually stole artworks from his home (though he refused to prosecute her), and was later murdered by an acquaintance in an unrelated incident in December 1964. Her death devastated Cornell, and marks the beginning of his decline into isolation; his brother Robert died in 1965, his mother a year later. In the winter of 1965 he began a series of collages dedicated to Robert’s memory…

Now alone in his family home, Cornell still received visitors (an invitation to Utopia Parkway had become something of an art-world trophy) but conditions in the house declined as his involvement in Christian Science and the metaphysical world increased. He would write letters to the ghosts of his former life – Robert, his mother, Joyce Hunter. Cornell became more and more interested in sharing his work with a younger audience and one of his last exhibitions in 1972 was expressly for children: A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, where cake and soda pops were served instead of the traditional champagne and canapés. He often said children were his most enthusiastic and receptive audience, and lent boxes to children in his neighbourhood for their enjoyment. Cornell continued to work until the end of his life, although he stopped making new boxes sometime in the 1960s, after which he focused on ‘refurbishing’ earlier boxes by breaking them down and reconstituting them. His main focus was a renewed interest in creating collages, which he saw as freer and more spontaneous than box construction. He also concentrated on making films and re-editing earlier cinematic work. Following prostate surgery in June 1972, he spent several months recuperating with family in Westhampton before returning to Utopia Parkway in November. Cornell died of heart failure alone at home, just a few days after his sixty-ninth birthday.

 

Conclusion

What can we make of the life of Joseph Cornell? From his shadow boxes we get the impression of a man who preferred fantasy to reality, finding inspiration and affinity with long-dead characters from history, from Renaissance princesses to Romantic ballerinas. But Cornell was also conscious of and responded to the changing landscape of twentieth-century art – Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism – and had a tremendous influence on other artists during his lifetime. He had an appetite for subjects that were as far ranging as his imagination, and was able to express, with the deftest of touches, huge concepts within intimate, self-contained spaces. Cornell’s cloistered worlds seem to encompass the entire universe in microcosm – its infinity, wonder, mystery and power all contained within a small box. Their appeal can only be accentuated by the fact that their creator conjured these worlds purely from imagination rather than experience. His last reported words to his sister Elizabeth on the day he died were, “You know, I was thinking, I wish I hadn’t been so reserved.” While this restraint may have caused him regret in his daily life, we see little trace of it in his art, which seems instead to be a magical, generous invitation to the viewer as a gateway to reverie, and to dream.

Written by Asha McLoughlin
Learning Department
© Royal Academy of Arts

 

Joseph Cornell. 'L'Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d'histoire naturelle' 1940

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle
1940
Box construction
11.9 x 27.1 x 18.4cm (closed)
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Naples' 1942

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Naples
1942
Box construction
28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Toward the Blue Peninsula - for Emily Dickinson' c. 1953

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Toward the Blue Peninsula – for Emily Dickinson
c. 1953
Box construction
36.8 x 26 x 14cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015.

 

 Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)' 1942-52

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)
1942-52
Box construction
35.4 x 28.4 x 9.8cm
Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com, courtesy Glenstone
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'A Parrot for Juan Gris' 1953-54

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
A Parrot for Juan Gris
1953-54
Box construction
45.1 x 31 x 11.7cm
The Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust offers an overview of the American artist’s inventive oeuvre, surveying around 80 of his remarkable box constructions, assemblages, collages and films. The last major solo exhibition of Cornell in Europe took place nearly 35 years ago, originating at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1980, and travelling to the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK. With very few works on permanent display in European museums, the exhibition is an opportunity to see rarely lent masterpieces from public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Cornell (1903-1972) never left America and hardly ventured beyond New York City, yet through his art he set out to travel through history, the continents of the globe and even the spiritual realm. His works are manifestations of a powerful ‘wanderlust’ of the mind and soul.

Collecting was central to Cornell’s creativity; he amassed a vast and eclectic personal archive of paper ephemera and found objects, eventually numbering tens of thousands of items. This material revealed his wide-ranging interests from opera, ballet, cinema and theatre to history, ornithology, poetry and astronomy. Europe held a special place in Cornell’s imagination, and many of the works selected for this exhibition highlight his love of its historic cultures, from the Belle Époque to the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by these interests, he incorporated his collected materials inside glass-fronted wooden box constructions creating miniature worlds known as his ‘shadow boxes’, as well as producing collages and film.

Cornell was entirely self-taught and has often been characterised as an outsider to the New York art scene. In reality, he was highly engaged with the art movements and artists of the time, exhibiting regularly alongside the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists, whilst carefully maintaining his independence from any one group. He counted many vanguard artists among his friends including Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, and Dorothea Tanning.

The exhibition is arranged thematically in four sections that reflect the artistic processes expressed in Cornell’s diaries and notes; Play and Experiment, Collecting and Classification, Observation and Exploration and Longing and Reverie. The selection brings together key works from his major series: Museums, Aviaries, Soap Bubble Sets, Palaces, Medici Slot Machines, Hotels and Dovecotes.

Press release from the Royal Academy of Arts website

 

 

“Impressions intriguingly diverse – that, in order to hold fast, one might assemble, assort, and arrange into a cabinet – the contraption kind of the amusement resorts with endless ingenuity of effect, worked by coin and plunger, or brightly coloured pin-balls – travelling inclined runways – starting in motion compartment after compartment with a symphony of mechanical magic of sight and sound borrowed from the motion picture art – into childhood – into fantasy – through the streets of New York – through tropical skies – etc. – into the receiving trays the balls come to rest releasing prizes.”

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Joseph Cornell

 

 

Royal Academy of Arts
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London W1J 0BD
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London W1S 3ET

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14
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2014 – 18th January 2015

Contemporary Galleries and The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, second floor

 

Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'X Playpen' 1987

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
X Playpen
1987
Wood and enamel paint
27 x 37 x 37″ (68.6 x 94 x 94cm)
Batsheva and Ronald Ostrow
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

“Begun in 1984, the sink series appeared during the darkest period of the AIDS epidemic. Gober, who is gay, responded to the tragedy with poetic indirection: the sinks’ cold air of clinical hygiene. The Times critic John Russell nailed the artistic effect: “Minimal forms with maximum content.” The fact that the content must be intuited by the viewer, who is free to regard the sinks as just cleverly manufactured found objects, typifies Gober’s circumspection. His works are enigmatic but not coy, morally driven but not aggrieved. They radiate a quality that is as rare in life as it is in art: character. …

The heart is an excitable physical organ that registers sensations of fight or flight and of love or aversion: the first and last unimpeachable witness to what can’t help but matter, for good and for ill, in every life.”

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Peter Schjeldahl. “Found Meanings: A Robert Gober Retrospective,” October 6, 2014 in ‘The Art World’ October 13, 2014 Issue on ‘The New Yorker’ website [Online] Cited 09/07/2021.

 

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'The Ascending Sink' 1985

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
The Ascending Sink
1985
Plaster, wood, steel, wire lath, and semi-gloss enamel paint
Two components, each: 30 x 33 x 27″ (76.2 x 83.8 x 68.6 cm); floor to top: 92″ (233.7cm)
Installed in the artist’s studio on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, Manhattan
Collection of Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner, New York
Promised gift to the Whitney Museum of American Art
Image credit: John Kramer, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled Closet' 1989

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Closet
1989
Wood, plaster, enamel paint
84 x 52 x 28″ (213.4 x 132.1 x 71.1cm)
Private collection
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 1991

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1991
Wood, beeswax, human hair, fabric, paint, shoes
9 x 16 1/2 x 45″ (22.9 x 41.9 x 114.3cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Andrew Moore, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1994-1995

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1994-1995
Wood, beeswax, brick, plaster, plastic, leather, iron, charcoal, cotton socks, electric light and motor
47 3/8 × 47 × 34″ (120.3 × 119.4 × 86.4cm)
Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

Chronicling a 40-year career, Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is the first large-scale survey of Robert Gober’s (American, b. 1954) work to take place in the United States. The exhibition is on view from October 4, 2014 to January 18, 2015, and features approximately 130 works across several mediums, including individual sculptures, immersive sculptural environments, and a distinctive selection of drawings and prints. Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is organised by Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator, and Paulina Pobocha, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA, working in close collaboration with the artist.

Early on, Gober’s sculptures declared themselves an indispensable part of the landscape of late-twentieth century art; since then they have continued to evolve while remaining tightly bound to the principles outlined by the artist almost four decades ago. Gober places narrative at the centre of his endeavour, embedding themes of sexuality, religion, and politics into work drawn from everyday life. Spare in its use of images and motifs while protean in its capacity to generate meaning, Gober’s work is an art of contradictions: intimate yet assertive, straightforward yet enigmatic. Taking imagery familiar to anyone – doors, sinks, legs – Gober dislocates, alters, and estranges what we think we know. Although a first glance might suggest otherwise, all of Gober’s objects are entirely handmade, by the artist and by collaborators with the necessary expertise.

The earliest works in the exhibition date from the mid-to-late 1970s when Gober was largely working in two dimensions. A painting of the house he grew up in Connecticut hangs at the entrance to the galleries. The first room of the exhibition offers an introduction to Gober’s career, as told through five works: a sculpture of a paint can, a man’s leg, and a closet, as well as a drawing and a small print.

Between 1983 and 1986, Gober created more than 50 sculptures of sinks and scores of related drawings. Based on real sinks, including one in the artist’s childhood home, Gober built them from wood, plaster, and wire lath, and finished them with multiple coats of paint to mimic the appearance of enamel. But, crucially, they lack faucets and plumbing. The sinks’ appearance coincided with the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and their uselessness spoke to the impossibility of cleansing oneself. The sculptures on view in the second gallery of the exhibition were featured in Gober’s first show of sinks, held at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1985.

Gober’s early and straightforward sink sculptures gave way in 1985 to a group of distorted sinks whose bodies are variably stretched, bent, multiplied, and divided. The evolution of form registers in the works’ titles: self-evident descriptions become increasingly expressive (eg. The Sink Inside of Me). By the mid-1980s, the artist’s preoccupation with domestic objects expanded to include sculptures of furniture such as beds and playpens, as well as an armchair, on view in the third gallery. Between 1986 and 1987, Gober created Two-Partially Buried Sinks, among the last sink sculptures of the decade. This work is positioned outside the walls of the Museum on a scaffold, and can be viewed through the gallery’s window.

In 1989 at the Paula Cooper Gallery, Gober exhibited his first room-sized installations. Each is framed by wallpapers: a pattern pairing a sleeping white man and a lynched black man in one, and line drawings of male and female genitalia in the other, both of which are on view in the following galleries. These backdrops powerfully inflect the sculptures contained within: a freestanding bridal gown and hand-painted plaster cat litter bags in the first room and a bag of donuts with cast-pewter drains inset into the walls in the second. With characteristic concision, Gober sets off a complex swirl of questions about the unease surrounding issues to everyday life in America.

Gober made Slides of a Changing Painting between 1982 and 1983. During this year, he painted on a small Masonite board and photographed the imagery as it changed over time. Eventually, he had accumulated more than 1,000 slides, which he edited down and organised into a slide projection that he showed in 1984. After the exhibition, Gober put the slides away. When he revisited the project around 1990, he realised that he had unknowingly employed many of the same images in his subsequent sculptures. Slides of a Changing Painting has continued to be generative; it provides a nearly complete index of Gober’s visual themes and vocabulary. The work is on view in a gallery centrally located within the exhibition.

The human figure was absent from Gober’s sculptural repertoire until 1989, when he made his first sculpture of a man’s leg, a breakthrough that ushered in many related works. Single legs wearing trousers and shoes and truncated at mid-shin were followed by pairs of legs that Gober left whole to the waist. He showed these surreal sculptures in a 1991 exhibition in Paris, recreated in the following gallery. Three pairs of legs, augmented by candles, drains, and a musical score, are positioned around the perimeter of a room wallpapered with a kaleidoscopic landscape of a beech forest in autumn. In the centre of the gallery sits a human-sized cigar composed of tobacco sheafs purchased from a Pennsylvania supplier. To learn how to preserve this organic material as it aged, Gober consulted an expert at the American Museum of Natural History. Seeking out specialists’ advice on complicated projects is a hallmark of the artist’s craft based practice.

The works on view in the following gallery were made by artists Anni Albers, Robert Beck, Cady Noland, and Joan Semmel; photographs by Nancy Shaver hang in the adjoining space. Gober brought these objects together for the first time in an exhibition he organised at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York in 1999. Gober has been curating exhibitions since the mid-1980s, most recently focusing on monographic presentations of the works by American artists Charles Burchfield and Forrest Bess. The contemporary artists included in this gallery share with Gober daring approaches to the representation of sexuality, violence, and American culture.

The immersive installation Gober conceived for a 1992 exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York is on view nearby. All three rooms of that original presentation are reconstructed: an antechamber, a central gallery, and a dark cul-de-sac. The main space features a hand-painted mural, executed in a paint-by-number method by scenic painters, depicting a forest inspired by the landscape of Long Island’s North Fork. Barred prison windows, through which a blue sky is visible, interrupt the verdant panorama. Placed throughout the gallery are hand-painted plaster sculptures of boxes of rat bait and bundles of newspapers – actually photolithographic facsimiles of newspapers featuring real and invented content. After a six-year absence from Gober’s work, sinks reappeared in the installation at Dia, water now running freely from their faucets.

Following the introduction of mens’ legs into his sculptural vocabulary, Gober cast the leg of a young boy and used that mould as the basis for several subsequent works, including a fireplace where legs take the place of firewood, a vision invoking childhood nightmares and uncensored fairy tales. Also on view is a sculpture of a suitcase that occupies space below ground as well as above. Its lid opens to reveal a sewer grate and a brick shaft that leads to a subterranean tidal pool complete with seaweed, mussel shells, and starfish. Visible through the depths of the water, amid the marine life, are the legs of a man and baby, one holding the other in a manner suggestive of baptism. While primarily a sculptor, Gober has worked across a range of media throughout his career including drawing and printmaking. Drawings sit the closest to his work in three dimensions; most of his sculptures and installations are preceded by preparatory drawings. A selection of Gober’s works on paper is also on view in this gallery.

The final installation included in the exhibition was made in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and results from Gober’s desire to create a space of refuge and reflection. The overall structure evokes the interior of a church: a central aisle separating rows of pews leads to an altar-like area flanked by two chapels. From the nipples of a headless Christ, regenerative “living water” flows into a large hole jackhammered into the floor. In the pastel drawings hanging on the side walls, the power of human embrace confronts the harrowing news contained within the photo-lithographed pages of the September 12, 2001, issue of The New York Times. In this installation, the overt references to Catholicism explore the vitality of such symbolism in the wake of contemporary tragedy.

Over the past decade, Gober’s sculptures have become increasingly complex, both technically and iconographically. The artist sometimes uses casts of existing sculptures and combines them to create hybrid objects, as in the conjunction of a chest, a stool, and a twisted network of children’s legs. Elsewhere, Gober pushes recognisable imagery into unpredictable terrain: a sink’s backsplash morphs into gnarled planks of wood interwoven with casts of fragmented arms. New motifs, such as a surrealistically melting rifle, also have entered the artist’s visual universe. The strangeness of these new sculptures is presaged by Prayers Are Answered (1980-81), an early work loosely based on a Catholic church on 7th Street and Avenue B in the East Village. Rather than the traditional religious scenes to be found in paintings lining the walls, Gober has furnished the church with murals depicting the harshness of daily life in the city.

The exhibition’s final gallery presents works made as early as 1979 and as recently as this past spring. Images of domestic objects and architecture and themes of childhood and the body reverberates across the decades. The dollhouse placed on the floor is one of several that Gober designed and built during his first years in New York City, as one way of earning a living. The sculpture and installations that would follow may be considered life-size realisations of the imaginative potential contained within these small structures.

Published in conjunction with the exhibition and prepared in close collaboration with the artist, Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor traces the development of his work, highlighting themes and motifs to which he has returned throughout the decades. The book features an essay by Hilton Als – a text both wide-ranging and personal – and an in-depth narrative of Gober’s life. The rich selection of images illustrates every phase of the artist’s career, and includes previously unpublished photographs from his own archive. Hardcover. 6.5″w x 9.75″h; 272 pages; 169 illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-87070-946-3. $45.

 

Ann Temkin

The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture
The Museum of Modern Art

Ms. Temkin assumed the role of Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture in 2008, after joining The Museum of Modern Art in 2003 as Curator. During her tenure, Ms. Temkin has worked extensively with her colleagues on reimagining the Painting and Sculpture collection galleries at the Museum. Along with Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, her exhibitions at MoMA include Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New (2013); Abstract Expressionist New York (2010); Gabriel Orozco (2009); and Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today (2008). Prior to MoMA, Ms. Temkin was the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1990 to 2003, where she organised such exhibitions as Barnett Newman (2002), Constantin Brancusi (1995), and Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys (1994).

 

Paulina Pobocha

Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture
The Museum of Modern Art

Ms. Pobocha is an assistant curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art. She joined the Museum in 2008 and has worked on the exhibitions Gabriel Orozco (2009) and Abstract Expressionist New York (2010). In 2013 she co-organised Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store. She has also worked extensively with the Museum’s collection. Prior to MoMA, Ms. Pobocha was a Joan Tisch Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she lectured on a broad range of subjects in contemporary and modern art. In 2011, she was appointed Critic at the Yale University School of Art.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
X Pipe Playpen
2013-14
Wood and bronze
26 1/8 x 55 x 55″ (66.4 x 139.7 x 139.7cm)
Collection the artist

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1989-1996
Silk satin, muslin, linen, tulle, welded steel, hand-printed silkscreen on paper, cast hydrostone plaster, vinyl acrylic paint, ink, and graphite
Dimensions variable, approximately 800 square feet installed
The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson Foundation; through prior gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Starrels and Fowler McCormick
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Bag of Donuts
1989
paper, dough and rhoplex (12 donuts)
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Cigar
1991
Wood, paint, paper, tobacco
15 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 70 7/8″ (40 x 40 x 180cm)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Purchased with funds provided by the Collectors Committee in honour of Marcia Simon Weisman
© 2014 Robert Gober

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Forest
1991
Hand-printed silkscreen on paper
180″ x 124″ (457.2 x 315cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1992
Paper, twine, metal, light bulbs, cast plaster with casein and silkscreen ink, stainless steel, painted cast bronze and water, plywood, forged iron, plaster, latex paint and lights, photolithography on archival (Mohawk Superfine) paper, twine, hand-painted forest mural
511 3/4 × 363 3/16 × 177 3/16″ (1300 × 922.5 × 450.1cm)
Glenstone
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled (detail)
2003-05
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Installation view of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Door and Door Frame
1987-88
Wood, enamel paint
Door: 84 x 34 x 1 1/2″ (213.4 x 86.4 x 3.8cm); doorframe: 90 x 43 x 5 1/2″ (228.6 x 109.2 x 14cm)
Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Gift of the John and Mary Pappajohn Art Foundation, 2004
© 2014 Robert Gober

Installation views of Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014 – January 18, 2015
All works by Robert Gober © 2014 Robert Gober © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art
Photos: Jonathan Muzikar

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 1992


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1992
Paper, twine, metal, light bulbs, cast plaster with casein and silkscreen ink, stainless steel, painted cast bronze and water, plywood, forged iron, plaster, latex paint and lights, photolithography on archival (Mohawk Superfine) paper, twine, hand-painted forest mural
511 3/4 × 363 3/16 × 177 3/16″ (1300 × 922.5 × 450.1cm)
Glenstone
Image credit: Russell Kaye, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled Leg' 1989-1990

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled Leg
1989-1990
Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair
11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheisser Foundation
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 2008


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2008
Cast gypsum polymer
14 ½ x 10 ¾ x 6″ (36.8 x 27.3 x 15.2cm)
Edition of 4, with 1 AP
Collection the artist
Image credit: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 2005-06

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2005-2006
Aluminum-leaf, oil and enamel paint on cast lead crystal
4 3/4″ high × 4 1/4″ diameter (12.1 × 10.8cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Slip Covered Armchair' 1986-87

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Slip Covered Armchair
1986-87
Plaster, wood, linen, and fabric paint
31 ½ x 30 ½ x 29″ (80 x 77.5 x 73.7cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1980-81

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1980-81
Oil on wood panel
8 x 5 ¾” (20.3 x 14.6cm)
Collection the artist
Image credit: Ron Amstutz, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954) '
Untitled' 1991


 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1991
Wood, beeswax, leather, fabric, and human hair
13 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 46 1/8″ (33.6 x 41.9 x 117.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser
Background: Forest, 1991
Hand-painted silkscreen on paper
Image credit: K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober. 'Untitled' 2003-05

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
2003-05
Courtesy MoMA and Matthew Marks Gallery
Image credit: Russel Kaye
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Leg with Anchor' 2008

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Leg with Anchor
2008
Forged iron and steel, beeswax, cotton, leather, and human hair
28 × 18 × 20″ (71.1 × 45.7 × 50.8cm)
Glenstone
Image credit: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Untitled' 1984

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled
1984
Plaster, wood, wire lath, aluminium, watercolour, semi-gloss enamel paint
28 x 33 x 22 1/2″ (71.1 x 83.8 x 57.2cm)
Rubell Family Collection
Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
 'Two Partially Buried Sinks' 1986-87

 

Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Two Partially Buried Sinks
1986-87
Cast iron and enamel paint
Right: 39 x 25 ½ x 2 ½” (99.1 x 64.8 x 6.4cm)
Left: 39 x 24 ½ x 2 3/4″ (99.1 x 62.2 x 7cm)
Private collection
Image credit: Andrew Moore, courtesy the artist
© 2014 Robert Gober

 

 

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06
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion’ at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2013 – 12th January 2014

 

Many thankx to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

'Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion' Installation photographs

 

Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion
Installation photographs
Fotos: Achim Kukulies, © Calder Foundation, New York / Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

 

“These hesitations and resumptions, gropings and fumblings, sudden decisions and, most especially, marvellous swan-like nobility make Calder’s mobiles strange creatures, mid-way between matter and life.”

.
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946

 

 

For the first time in 20 years, a German museum is presenting a major selection of works by the American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976). With the exhibition Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen invites art lovers to reevaluate Calder as an astonishingly multifaceted member of the twentieth century avant-garde. Never before has the artistic oeuvre of this pioneer of Kineticism been presented in its surprising proximity and intimate interplay with the experimental film and music of its time. This approach highlights the intellectual universality of an artist whose mobiles are familiar worldwide today.

The focus of the exhibition at the K20 Grabbeplatz is the 1930s and 1940s, documenting Calder’s path toward abstraction and his lifelong friendships with members of the European avant-garde. On view in two exhibition halls are approximately 70 works, ranging from small-scale works in wood and sheet metal to the monumental steel stabile Le Tamanoir (1963), weighing 2300 kilograms, on loan from Rotterdam. A special architectural feature of this presentation is the long, accessible catwalk in the Kleehalle, which will offer visitors unexpected perspectives of the suspended mobiles.

For the Düsseldorf exhibition, Calder’s first solo show of abstract works at the Galerie Percier in Paris in 1931, has been partially documented as a crucial station on the path toward his singular formal language. His artistic friendships during his time in Paris are highlighted by important individual paintings by Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, and Hans Arp that are found today in the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. The impulse that initiated this major exhibition project was modest in proportions: in 2008, the sculpture Untitled, dating from 1936, was acquired by the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia, and hence and came into the possession of the Kunstsammlung. This work is among Calder’s relatively unknown “noise-mobiles,” which generate sound through the gentle pendular movement of a ball that hangs from a wire. A complex work, Untitled connects various phases of Calder’s career, pointing toward the beginning of the wire sculptures of the 1920s and also the “sonorous” mobiles of the later period, which are set in motion by air currents. The forms of the individual elements signal Calder’s turn toward abstraction, but also resemble the organic language typical of the works of Arp and Miró.

Like no other American artist, and in a way comparable only with his friend Man Ray, Calder was a consistent member of Parisian avant-garde circles between 1926 and 1933. He was recognised by the main representatives of a range of artistic tendencies, yet never allowed himself to be drawn into the rivalry between abstraction and Surrealism. During these years, Calder moved uninhibitedly between various orientations, positioning his work in the field of tension residing between Mondrian’s cool geometric compositional structures and the biomorphic, playful abstractions of Miró and Arp. The exhibition features in particular the abstract works Calder produced after a legendary and pivotal experience in Paris: in the fall of 1930, he visited Mondrian’s studio and was deeply impressed by the space’s total composition, in particular by the black-and-white structuring of a wall on which coloured rectangles were mounted for study purposes. In his autobiography, Calder characterises his visit to this environment as a “shock” that prompted him to reevaluate his artistic production to date.

During the ensuing weeks, he produced abstract paintings exclusively – a brief intermezzo. Subsequently, he developed his first nonobjective, spatial wire constructions. In the autumn of 1931, the influences of the preceding years found a more distinct expression in Calder’s art when he produced the first moving sculptures by a system of motors or cranks. Marcel Duchamp gave them the name “mobile,” a word that means both “motion” and “motive” in French. The mechanics were abandoned as Calder developed hanging kinetic sculptures, which are linked together by wires and joints and held in a state of equilibrium; through the principle of contingent and dynamic rotation, the individual parts continually form new and unanticipated constellations. As a counterpart to the mobiles, Calder developed immobile constructions, which Hans Arp dubbed “stabiles” in 1932.

Contributing to our understanding of Calder’s works are experimental films, likely seen by Calder during his time in Paris, in which movement and rotation are thematised in their most various facets. During the 1920s, many artists in Calder’s intimate circle were preoccupied with the medium of cinema and the moving image, for example Fernand Léger with Ballet Mechanique (1924), Marcel Duchamp with Anémic Cinéma (1926), and Man Ray with Le Retour à la Raison (1923). In the exhibition, these experimental films will be screened as part of the broader context of Calder’s studies of movement and space. Indispensable to a comprehensive presentation of Calder’s involvement in the historic avant-garde is a consideration of the experimental music of the time: Calder cultivated friendships with the composers Edgard Varèse, Virgil Thomson, and John Cage, among others. Calder was intensively preoccupied with contemporary music, which is also incorporated into the exhibition. And it seems likely that it also exerted an influence on the “noise-mobiles,” for which the randomness of sound events plays an important role.”

Alexander Calder: Avant-Garde in Motion is on show at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, in two large exhibition halls at the K20 Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf. In the Klee Hall the visitor will experience Calder’s early sculptures – set against works by trend-setting fellow artists, such as Mondrian, Miró and Arp, as well as artistic and documentary films. In the high Grabbehall, by contrast, the large mobiles and stabiles will be exhibited to impressive effect by allowing the individual shapes to move freely. Here the visitor can experience how the artist makes playful use of space and proportions. At various points throughout the exhibition, Calder’s mobiles enter into a dialogue with experimental music dating from the 1920s onwards, ranging from compositions by Edgar Varèse to those of John Cage. This illustrates how Calder constantly sought inspiration from other branches of the arts and broadened his own horizons.

Press release from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen website

 

Alexander Calder. 'Quatre systèmes rouges' (mobile) 1960

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Quatre systèmes rouges (mobile)
1960
Iron, steel wire, colour
155 x 200 x 200cm
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Dänemark, Donation: The New Carlsberg Foundation
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Dänemark
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Araignée d'oignon' (Onion peeler) c. 1940

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Araignée d’oignon (Onion peeler)
c. 1940
21.8 × 35 × 36.5cm
Iron
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Foto: Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Moderna Museet, Stockholm
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Constellation with Red Object' 1943

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Constellation with Red Object
1943
Wood, steel wire, colour
62.2 x 38.7 x 24.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, James Thrall Soby Fund, 1943
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: © 2012 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Little Spider' c. 1940

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Little Spider
c. 1940
Sheet metal, steel wire, colour
111.1 x 127 x 139.7cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Performing Seal' 1950

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Performing Seal
1950
83.8 × 58.4 × 91.4cm
Sheet metal, steel wire, colour
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Nathan Keay, © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Nathan Keay, © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Portrait of a Man' c. 1928

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Portrait of a Man
c. 1928
Messingdraht
32.5 x 22.2 x 34.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist, 1966
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: © 2012 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Upstanding T' 1944

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Upstanding T
1944
Bronze
78 x 37 x 25cm
Calder Foundation, New York
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Ohne Titel' (Untitled) 1936

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Ohne Titel (Untitled)
1936
Standing Mobile (stehendes Mobile)
Steel sheets, steel wire, wooden ball, black, gray, red, blue and yellow painted
75.5 x 32.8 x 41cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Leihgabe des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Untitled' c. 1934

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Untitled
c. 1934
Steel tube, round bar, wood, wire, paint, string
114.5 x 94cm
Calder Foundation, New York
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Courtesy Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, New York
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

Alexander Calder. 'Cello on a spindle' 1936

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Cello on a spindle
1936
158 × 118 × 90cm
Metal, wood, lead, colour
Kunsthaus Zürich
© 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Kunsthaus Zürich
Foto: © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Foto: Kunsthaus Zürich
© Kunstsammlung NRW

 

 

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D-40213 Düsseldorf

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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