Joseph Cornell and Surrealism
This international loan exhibition focuses on the work of Joseph Cornell, the American pioneer of collage, montage, and assemblage art in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s. These years span both Cornell’s emergence and maturation as an artist and the heyday of surrealism in the United States. The exhibition will comprise some one hundred objects by Cornell and other artists and it will be accompanied by a significant publication featuring original essays by American and European scholars. It is a collaboration between the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, which has holdings that include six boxes and fourteen collages, the majority having come as gifts from the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation in 2002 and 2005. The exhibition is scheduled for Lyon beginning in fall 2013. The Fralin Museum of Art will be the second venue.
The confluence announced in our title, Joseph Cornell and Surrealism, provides an historical framework for the exhibition. Surrealism was the revelation that launched Cornell as an exhibiting artist. It was also the cultural milieu—the world of painters, sculptors, and photographers (many of them expatriate Europeans), art galleries and museums, and poets, critics, and magazines—that shaped and molded him through the first half of his career. We will present key works by Cornell as well as selected pieces by other major artists to evoke that surrealist environment in New York and to trace Cornell's course through it.
There have been four large monographic exhibitions devoted to Cornell, and numerous shows have treated selected aspects of his art. Our exhibition is the first to explore Cornell's relation to the larger surrealist world. More specifically, it centers on surrealism's catalyzing effect on Cornell's art. Surrealism activated the development of Cornell's signature working method: collage and the related procedures of montage, construction, and assemblage. And it was to surrealism that Cornell owed his basic conception of the visual image as the product of poetic juxtaposition. With this in mind, we will explore the diversity and interconnectedness of Cornell's artistic practices and formats. These include, of course, the two-and three-dimensional formats for which he is best known: collages, found object pieces, and shadow box constructions containing found objects. The other major strands of Cornell's achievement will also receive in-depth examination, including the artist's engagement with photography, his groundbreaking work in collage film, and the open-ended and non-linear archives of printed materials that Cornell called his "explorations." Juxtapositions with key works by other artists—Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Man Ray, among others—will elucidate his activity in the context of surrealism.