Cornell’s Alien Artifacts

“Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. Once together they’ll make a work of art. That’s Cornell’s premise, his metaphysics, and his religion.” That was how poet and author Charles Simic described the way Joseph Cornell worked. Whatever was driving him, as anyone who has spent any time staring at one of Joseph Cornell’s shadowbox sculptures can tell you, the results are extraordinary. This man somehow took a bunch of common items like postcards, coins, and pipes and turned them into something that feels like a religious artifact from another dimension. There’s a message in them that your brain can’t quite comprehend but you still feel. A shift into another time and place. A portal into another world. Or not. Maybe you just see a bunch of junk in a glass box. So, be it. But that would be a real shame. Because there is something to these little boxes. Something very, very unique and special. If you have the chance to see one in person, you should do it. If you already love Cornell and have already seen his work, you should go do it again. This strange, little man, who rarely left his house on Utopia Parkway, and who had stalker-like obsessions with several actresses such as Lauren Bacall, was trying to tell us something. All we have to do is shut up, pay attention, and try to hear him.