Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys. To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.
Today was an art date to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. The PEM is a wonderful museum that has one of the best Asian art collections in the area. Today’s visit, however, was not for Asian art but to view the Joseph Cornell exhibit.
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was a mixed media/collage/assemblage artist in New York. He is best known for his box assemblages that featured interesting collections of items such as birds, balls, pipes, assorted images, and other bits of ephemera. His work was greatly influenced by nature, science, memories of his childhood (e.g. box assemblages that resemble penny aracade games), and his religious/spiritual conversion to Christian Science.
What was curious about Cornell’s work was his use of unaltered images such as portraits by artists from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, images taken from popular magazines (e.g. National Geographic, Scientific American), and pictures of famous celebrities (e.g. Lauren Becall). I kept thinking about the potential copyright issues artists face today if we use such images.
His box collages/assemblages were my favorite pieces. Some were humourous (dancing plastic lobsters in tutus). Some made me say “huh?” I enjoyed his use of repetition of images, his subtle commentary on events of the day, and the blue glass that covered several pieces. The blue glass gave these pieces a calming and ethereal feel.
I was fascinated with Cornell’s detailed and perhaps obssessive documentation of his pieces. He kept numerous journals and folder after folder on his work; folders filled with images; folders filled with notes and thoughts on many pieces. It was stunning and spoke to his devotion to his art.
And the picture of his studio filled with boxes (all labeled) of all the items he collected was quite impressive. I thought that it gave new meaning to the term “pack rat.” It is believed that at the time of his death he had amassed 3000 books and magazines, record albums and vintage films, diaries and letters that now fill more than thirty reels of microfilm and tens of thousands of pieces of ephemera.
And I think I have a lot of stuff!
The Joseph Cornell exhibit at the PEM is the most comprehensive display of Cornell’s work. It is a fascinating exhibit of a pioneering collage artist. If the exhibit ever comes to a museum near you I highly recommend that you see it. But be forewarned: Viewing this exhibit may motivate you to visit the nearest flea market to buy ephemera. I know that is what I want to do…because one can never have too much stuff.