Joseph Cornell

American

1903, Nyack, New York
1972, Flushing, New York

Biography

Joseph Cornell is best known for his box constructions. Made at a time when American art privileged large-scale abstraction, these collage-like objects are small, representational, and intensely personal.

Cornell was a self-taught artist with almost no formal training. He lived somewhat reclusively in Queens, New York, working a variety of day jobs and making his boxes at night in a basement studio. He roamed the beaches of Long Island and the thrift stores of Manhattan in search of cast-off materials, which he painstakingly assembled in glass-fronted wooden boxes. The resulting works have a strong sense of nostalgia. They often draw on fairy tales and mythology, though they also make reference to astronomy and the natural sciences, ballet, opera, and Hollywood films.


Works in the Collection

Please note that artwork locations are subject to change, and not all works are on view at all times. If you are planning a visit to SFMOMA to see a specific work of art, we suggest you contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to confirm it will be on view.

Only a portion of SFMOMA's collection is currently online, and the information presented here is subject to revision. Please contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to verify collection holdings and artwork information.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.