LAMA BLOG

Just In: Joseph Cornell Sandbox

November 16, 2017

American multi-media artist Joseph Cornell’s valise dossiers, films, collages, and seminal glass-fronted shadow boxes fluidly mixed references from both high and lowbrow sources to create a potent and poetic vignette of both found and everyday objects. He took cues from Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” and Kurt Schwitters’ boxed Dada collages—both artists that he encountered at the avant-garde Julien Levy Gallery in New York.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Sandbox), c. 1960
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

It was in the 1930s, through his sustained encounters with artists and writers from Levy Gallery, that Cornell first began to develop and expand on his concept for his now iconic shadow boxes. In 1932 Cornell had his own solo exhibition at Levy Gallery titled “Surréalisme.” Over the course of the following three decades Cornell would further hone his approach to his signature assemblages by integrating seemingly contrary and fetishized objects such as marbles, seashells, butterflies, postcards, and other ephemera—which he sourced from antique and junk shops in New York—into highly sophisticated and strikingly organic tableaux.

Many of Cornell’s works, such as Untitled (Sandbox) from c. 1960, which will be offered in LAMA’s February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction, were designed with the intention of being experienced by direct handling. This interaction was meant to produce variations on the vignettes that an individual assemblage had the potential to create. When handled, the individual components in assemblages such as Untitled (Sandbox)—in this case a metal ring, balls, and loose sand with a smiling moon face affixed in the corner—collide and disappear in a kaleidoscope-like way to produce endless variations, both visually and audibly with each interaction.

Although very well connected in the art world of his day—artists Yayoi Kusama, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell were all counted among his confidants—Cornell was a notorious recluse, living with his brother in their mother’s home for his entire life and rarely making public appearances. And although his work reflects a voracious appetite for foreign places and faraway cultures, as well as an ongoing interest in travel and various modes of transit, Cornell never physically ventured beyond New York. In more ways than one, his oeuvre reflects the output of both an enthusiastic armchair traveller, as well as that of an avid collector with an eye for commingling disparate, neglected objects to create new meanings, which, as in Untitled (Sandbox), themselves continually give way to different interpretations with each new encounter.

Lot Information:

Lot 100
Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Sandbox)
c. 1960
Wood and glass box construction with sand, string, metal balls, and found objects
Signed to paper label verso
9″ x 15.75″ x 1.5″
Estimate: $40,000-$60,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

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