Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

March 15 - June 15, 2007
Exhibited in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington, D.C. and at the Archives’ New York Research Center

In his personal papers, as in his art, Joseph Cornell embraced life’s evanescence. Known mainly for his shadow box constructions, Cornell documented his passion for “exquisite surprises”—the poignant connections between memory and sensory experience. He recorded his impressions of music, art, ballet, his art, and the intertwined sensations of seeing, feeling, and remembering in his diaries and on scraps of paper—the backs of envelopes, magazine clippings, and wrapping papers.

Deeply romantic, with wide–ranging cultural interests, Cornell kept “dossiers” on people with whom he felt a special relationship—real or imagined—including actresses, singers, artists, ballerinas, and writers. He also collected source material for his exploration of such subjects as astronomy, books, birds, butterflies, clouds, poetry, stamps and sunsets.

This exhibition reveals Cornell’s sense of wonder through his private communications, personal musings, and collected ephemera. For a more detailed description of the Archives’ collection, see the Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986 bulk 1939-1972.

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Hans Namuth postcard to Joseph Cornell

Hans Namuth postcard to Joseph Cornell, 1967 May 9

Creator: Hans Namuth

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

'a yellowthroat in the shrubbery in the afternoon'

'a yellowthroat in the shrubbery in the afternoon', 1967 May 11

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Common squirrel; House mouse; Rat

Common squirrel; House mouse; Rat, between 1880 and 1940

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Three bird cutouts

Three bird cutouts, 19--

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Envelope containing leaves, flowers, and a feather collected by Joseph Cornell

Envelope containing leaves, flowers, and a feather collected by Joseph Cornell, 1949 Aug. 4

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Robert Cornell Memorial Exhibition

Robert Cornell Memorial Exhibition, 1966 Jan. 4-29

Creator: Robert Schoelkopf Gallery

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Robert Cornell with a portion of his train collection

Robert Cornell with a portion of his train collection, ca. 1965

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Robert Cornell letter to Elizabeth Cornell Benton

Robert Cornell letter to Elizabeth Cornell Benton, 1948 May 21

Creator: Robert Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell postcard to Elizabeth Cornell Benton

Joseph Cornell postcard to Elizabeth Cornell Benton, 1948 Jul 6

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell: sun in the snow

Joseph Cornell: sun in the snow, 1976

Creator: Sherry Friend

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

House where Joseph Cornell was born

House where Joseph Cornell was born, between 1890 and 1950

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Ray Johnson letter to Joseph Cornell

Ray Johnson letter to Joseph Cornell, 1966 Nov. 25

Creator: Ray Johnson

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Thomas M. Messer letter to Joseph Cornell

Thomas M. Messer letter to Joseph Cornell, ca. 1966

Creator: Thomas M. Messer

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Rudy Burckhardt letter to Joseph Cornell

Rudy Burckhardt letter to Joseph Cornell, 1953 May 6

Creator: Rudy Burckhardt

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Julien Levy letter to Joseph Cornell

Julien Levy letter to Joseph Cornell, 1967 Feb. 2

Creator: Julien Levy

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Jackie Monnier letter to unidentified recipient

Jackie Monnier letter to unidentified recipient, 1967 Dec. 6

Creator: Jackie Monnier

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Marcel Duchamp at an opening at Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery, New York

Marcel Duchamp at an opening at Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery, New York, 1965 Jan. 14

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Arthur Stone letter to unidentified recipient

Arthur Stone letter to unidentified recipient, 1965 July 27

Creator: Arthur Stone

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Robert Motherwell letter to Joseph Cornell

Robert Motherwell letter to Joseph Cornell, 1948 Mar. 4

Creator: Robert Burns Motherwell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Maria Motherwell letter to Joseph Cornell

Maria Motherwell letter to Joseph Cornell, 1945 Nov. 26

Creator: Maria Motherwell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

box for Matta

box for Matta, between 1940 and 1970

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Roberto Matta Echaurren letter to Joseph Cornell

Roberto Matta Echaurren letter to Joseph Cornell, between 1940 and 1970

Creator: Roberto Matta Echaurren

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Roberto Matta Echaurren letter to Joseph Cornell

Roberto Matta Echaurren letter to Joseph Cornell, between 1940 and 1970

Creator: Roberto Matta Echaurren

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

'Dear Folks, Another coolish morning getting in a back-yard seance in the freshness of the early hours'

'Dear Folks, Another coolish morning getting in a back-yard seance in the freshness of the early hours', 1953 Aug. 7

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

'Dear Folks, A horsefly gleamed on a yellow dahlia when I stepped out this morning;'

'Dear Folks, A horsefly gleamed on a yellow dahlia when I stepped out this morning;', 1953 Aug. 3

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Manhattan at night

Manhattan at night, between 1960 and 1970

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Notes on a collage and an afternoon walk

Notes on a collage and an afternoon walk, between 1940 and 1970

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell diary entry

Joseph Cornell diary entry, 1954 Nov. 30

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

'do not lose sight of the fact that these jumble of scribblings on the spot & recollected are diametrically opp. to a natural unfoldment of the day'

'do not lose sight of the fact that these jumble of scribblings on the spot & recollected are diametrically opp. to a natural unfoldment of the day', 1958 Mar. 3

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Peiro Dorazio postcard to Joseph Cornell

Peiro Dorazio postcard to Joseph Cornell, ca. 1950

Creator: Piero Dorazio

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Peiro Dorazio postcard to Joseph Cornell

Peiro Dorazio postcard to Joseph Cornell, ca. 1950

Creator: Piero Dorazio

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Sonja Sekula postcard to Joseph Cornell

Sonja Sekula postcard to Joseph Cornell, ca. 1948 Jul 20

Creator: Sonja Sekula

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Dorothea Tanning postcard to Joseph Cornell

Dorothea Tanning postcard to Joseph Cornell, 1965 Sep. 21

Creator: Dorothea Tanning

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Dorothea Tanning postcard to Joseph Cornell

Dorothea Tanning postcard to Joseph Cornell, 1943 Aug. 4

Creator: Dorothea Tanning

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Draft of a letter to unknown recipient

Draft of a letter to unknown recipient, 1951 Aug. 31

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Ballerina cutout

Ballerina cutout, between 1940 and 1970

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Horse racing ticket stubs

Horse racing ticket stubs, 1949 Nov. 4

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Collage of Tamara Toumanova dancing

Collage of Tamara Toumanova dancing, between 1940 and 1970

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Marilyn and Pat letter to Joseph Cornell

Marilyn and Pat letter to Joseph Cornell, between 1940 and 1970

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Ann Marie letter to Joseph Cornell

Ann Marie letter to Joseph Cornell, 1957 Sept. 1

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Article clipped from New York Times,

Article clipped from New York Times, "Youths laud Cooper Union 'adult' art", 1972 Feb. 11

Creator: Grace Glueck

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Susan Romm essay inspired by an artwork by Joseph Cornell

Susan Romm essay inspired by an artwork by Joseph Cornell, 1971 Mar. 12

Creator: Susan Romm

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Marilyn Siegel letter to Joseph Cornell

Marilyn Siegel letter to Joseph Cornell, 1971 Jan. 25

Creator: Marilyn Siegel

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Didi Shaw letter to Joseph Cornell

Didi Shaw letter to Joseph Cornell, 1970 [i.e. 1971] Jan. 25

Creator: Didi Shaw

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

David Conway letter to Joseph Cornell

David Conway letter to Joseph Cornell, 1971 Jan. 24

Creator: David Conway

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Visitor's book from a Joseph Cornell exhibition

Visitor's book from a Joseph Cornell exhibition, 1972

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Hermit [i.e. Kermit] in the garden

Hermit [i.e. Kermit] in the garden, 1971 Jan.

Creator: Marilyn Siegel

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Underwater Chirsmas [i.e. Christmas] tree

Underwater Chirsmas [i.e. Christmas] tree, 1971

Creator: Didi Shaw

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

George Brecht letter to Joseph Cornell

George Brecht letter to Joseph Cornell, 1967 Jul. 19

Creator: George Brecht

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Tony Curtis letter to Joseph Cornell

Tony Curtis letter to Joseph Cornell, 1964 Feb. 27

Creator: Tony Curtis

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell notes on photography for publication

Joseph Cornell notes on photography for publication, between 1932 and 1972

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell art source material clippings of children

Joseph Cornell art source material clippings of children, between 1939 and 1986

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Brochure for the exhibit Romantic Museum at the Hugo Gallery: Portraits of women, constructions and arrangements by Joseph Cornell

Brochure for the exhibit Romantic Museum at the Hugo Gallery: Portraits of women, constructions and arrangements by Joseph Cornell, 1946 Dec.

Creator: Hugo Gallery

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Study for: Penny Arcade Portrait with Lauren Bacall

Study for: Penny Arcade Portrait with Lauren Bacall, 1945-1946

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Study for: Medici Slot Machine

Study for: Medici Slot Machine, 1942

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Fay Wray letter to Joseph Cornell

Fay Wray letter to Joseph Cornell, 1934 Oct. 3

Creator: Fay Wray

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Mina Loy letter to Joseph Cornell

Mina Loy letter to Joseph Cornell, 1944

Creator: Mina Loy

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell letter to Mina Loy

Joseph Cornell letter to Mina Loy, 1951 July 3

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Toumanova ballet scrapbook

Toumanova ballet scrapbook, ca. 1941

Creator: Joseph Cornell

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

Robert Motherwell teaching at Black Mountain Rock

Robert Motherwell teaching at Black Mountain Rock, ca. 1945

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Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell

The Cornell family

The Cornell family, circa 1915

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