Joseph Cornell - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Thursday, November 17, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Castelli Feigen Corcoran, New York
    L&M Arts, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Joseph Cornell, November 17, 1980 - January 20, 1981, no. 148, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The fascinating life and work of American artist Joseph Cornell has garnered increased attention and critical acclaim since his death in 1972. Living and working alongside New York post-war painters like de Kooning, Rothko and Motherwell, Cornell developed a multi-faceted style that challenged notions of the readymade, while recalling motifs and aesthetics from avant-garde movements including Surrealism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. In the early 1950s, Joseph Cornell began his “Aviary” boxes, most of which were composed of drawings and silhouetted objects shaped like birds and their cages, enclosed by collaged shadow boxes with found paper goods. The shadow box became a symbol of the artist’s oeuvre long before he began this series, “a fascinating art historical object, encapsulating all at once the French Cubist past and the more painterly American future” according to Deborah Solomon in her biography on the artist (Utopian Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, Boston, 1997, p. 186). It was in the Aviaries, however, that this object was transformed into a more abstract idea, where previously ornate trimmings were stripped down to just a simple wooden box, collaged only with found materials. Exhibited in Cornell’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1980 following his death, the present lot, from 1954, represents this aesthetic shift, unique in its truly simple composition. The contour of a parrot is outlined with painted black paper, glued to a jigsaw of newspaper articles written in French, advertisements for the Grand Hotel de la Pomme d’Or, and a single stamp at the top right corner. Upon close inspection, there is an unusual abstraction to the bird’s presence. The parrot is in actuality just an outline, its single eye composed only of a drilled hole in the wood support of the shadow box, and its claws indicated by protruding nails from the box where they should be.

    One cannot help but think that the motif of the caged bird recalls in some way Cornell’s own story; for most of his life, he lived in a small house on Utopia Parkway in Queens, never marrying or living on his own. Thought of as a recluse, Cornell only ever read about the settings he referenced and created, such as this hotel in France. In the present lot, however, there is the possibility that perhaps this bird has escaped, the only remaining evidence of him being his outline. The resulting object is thus open to interpretation from the viewer, and evokes the nostalgic intimacy that many of Cornell’s shadow boxes possess. Beautiful and at once unsettling, Cornell’s Untitled parrot collage stands out as a stunning example of his practice, a testament to the artist’s life and work.


Untitled (Parrot Collage; Grand Hotel de la Pomme d’Or)

signed "Joseph Cornell" on the reverse
box construction
18 7/8 x 10 5/8 x 3 1/4 in. (47.9 x 27 x 8.3 cm.)
Executed in 1954-1955.

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $150,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2016