Joseph Cornell at The Royal Academy

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust
at The Royal Academy of Arts
Open Now
Until 27th September 2015 IMG_0498

In his 69 years Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) never once left the shores of America and in fact hardly ever strayed from his native New York City but in spite of that his work is full of travel references and inspirations from people and places around the globe. This new exhibition of Cornell’s work at The Royal Academy is the first in Europe for nearly 35 years and very few of Cornell’s works are held in European museum collections which may go some way to explain why Joseph Cornell is so much less well-known here than he is in his home country.

Although Joseph Cornell may not be a household name in the UK he is an artist that many contemporary artists cite as an important influence, amongst them our own Sir Peter Blake – another artist who, like Cornell, has made collecting a central part of his creative life. Throughout his life, Cornell amassed a vast collection of found objects, tens of thousands of objects that were not only incredibly diverse in nature but also seemingly quite unconnected. These haphazard collections echoed Cornell’s many and varied interests which included astronomy, dance, poetry, opera and royal history. The eclectic, and often strange, objects from Joseph Cornell’s collections formed the basis for his famous ‘shadow boxes’. Entirely self-taught, Cornell made these glass-fronted boxes which he carefully filled with cut-out paper, models, and small items to create miniature worlds telling stories about people and places far beyond the walls of the small house he shared with his mother and disabled brother in Flushing, New York.

In this exhibition the Royal Academy has gathered around 80 of Cornell’s works from public and private collections around the world. As well as his box constructions there are assemblages, collages and films. All the works are littered with references to travel, from cutout advertisements for Grand Hotels in Europe to games made from Baedeker guide books. Highlights include Pharmacy (1943) a glass case of apothecary bottles filled with shells, coloured powders and butterfly wings (fifty years before Damien Hirst was doing it) and a small case filled with newspaper cuttings, tiny glass swans, postcards and pottery shards all gathered as a tribute to Ludwig II of Bavaria.  A personal favourite is an inlayed wooden box labelled Museum which is tightly packed with smaller boxes that imitate rolled newspaper, in the boxes that can be opened there is a small object like a marble or a feather and those that cannot be opened can be shaken with each making a different noise. Everything is meticulously crafted with an astonishing attention to the tiniest detail.

In Joseph Cornell’s imagination he voyaged geographically, historically and spiritually. It is amazing how far a man can travel without leaving his hometown. A charming and unusual exhibition from a strange and wonderful mind.

Exhibition is on until 27th September 2015

£11.50 (incl Gift Aid)
Concessions available
Children under 16 FREE
Friends of the RA FREE

Opening times:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Late Fridays until 10pm

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust
The Sackler Wing of Galleries
The Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
London W1J 0BD
Tel:020 7300 8000

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