Exquisite Surprise: The Papers of Joseph Cornell


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.