The book may be beautiful, but I got to see the real thing yesterday at the American Art Museum. It is quite a large exhibit, including many of his boxed constructions and collages, in a hushed, blue-tinted room ~ blue being Cornell's signature color. My friend, Melissa, had already been to the show, so she alerted me to the box in the back of the room that lights up on the hour. Lucky us - it was 5 minutes to the hour when we arrived!
I have several books on Cornell, so was familiar with many of the pieces in the show, but seeing them in 3-D, live and in all their nuances of color, scale and texture was wonderful. The workmanship, the dimensionality, the care are all so apparent. They really had auras or vibes, each one. There was definitely something present in each one that was not visual.
My favorite part of the exhibit were the cases filled with some of his collections - ordinary cardboard boxes filled with his "stuff". Each box was labelled in his scratchy handwriting: "marb. col. rubber balls", "nests", "deadwood pieces", "cylinder images", "L'aumeir vagabonde", "turkey feathers", "nostalgia of the sea". My favorite was the Quaker Oatmeal container full of ordinary sand. There were boxes of spring, bracelets, rings. One marked "notions", and "mouse material" (I didn't want to know what that was.) "nostalgia of the sea" shared space with "plastic shells", "coral".
Like many of you reading this, I have collected stuff for many decades, long before I ever knew what I was going to do with it. I was just drawn to certain disparate objects. For many, many years it was a mystery to me, "Why am I buying this?" "What will I ever do with this?" "Why, this piece?" At first there were just enough items to fill a shelf, later a bookcase, and now several. I no longer feel bad about my stuff. In fact, I now sophisticatedly classify it all as collections. They are my tools. They are both the materials and the art itself. Each piece, perhaps a fragment of a once beautiful or precious object, being old, or found, or rescued, has it's own story, it's own poetry. It's my job to continue or to reveal its story and in turn, tell one of my own, which in the making, becomes a part, a continuation of my life story.
There is nothing Joseph Cornell did that I do not have the skill to do. Many uninformed people may think that his art is nothing more than well-made boy scout projects...little boxes full of junk. But you and I know better. Many of you reading this know just how hard it really is to take unrelated and/or found objects and images and create something a) of beauty, and b) with meaning. Composition is key, of course, but so is understanding, or emotion ~ translating your soul into something visual and concrete for others to see.
Art is our memory of love. The most an artist can do through their work is say, let me show you what I have seen, what I have loved, and perhaps you will see it and love it too. Annie Bevan>