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