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Joseph Cornell (1903-1972)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Bergman Collection
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972)

Untitled (Glass Bell)

Details
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972)
Untitled (Glass Bell)
wood, glass, paint, printed paper, plaster and metal
15¾ x 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. (40 x 21.9 x 21.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1932.
Provenance
Julien Levy Gallery, New York
Maud Murray Thompson Dale, New York
Murray Thompson, New York, gift of the above
Isabel Pedro-Valiente, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1982
Literature
Minotaure Magazine, winter 1937, p. 34 (illustrated).
A. Michelson, 'Rose Hobart and Monsieur Phot: Early Films from Utopia Parkway,' Artforum, June 1973, p. 51.
D. Ades, 'The Transcendental Surrealism of Joseph Cornell,' Joseph Cornell, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1980, p. 18, no. 4 (illustrated).
J. Hauptman, Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema, New Haven, 1999, p. 31, no. 17 (illustrated in color).
Joseph Cornell et les Surréalistes à New York, exh. cat., Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2014, pp. 24, 46, 310 and 353, no. B.10 and 9.01 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Art Institute of Chicago, The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection, June 1983-October 1989, no. 1 (on loan).
Geneva, Musée Rath and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Regards sur Minotaure: la revue à tête de bête/Focus on Minotaure: the Animal-Headed Review, October 1987-January 1988, p. 238, no. 111 (illustrated in color).
Special Notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust at the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, July 2015-January 2016.

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Lot Essay

Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust at the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, July 2015-January 2016.


Throughout the late 1920s and into the 1930s, Cornell had begun to immerse himself into the opulent culture of New York, absorbing the city's rich offerings of classical music, modern art, opera and ballet, as well as enjoying the growing popularity of the silver screen. Frequenting vastly different cultural venues, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library, the Museum of Natural History, and Radio City Music Hall, the city became his wondrous host, feeding Cornell's innate curiosities and sparking his most marvelously complex obsessions. Departing his family home at 3708 Utopia Parkway, Queens in the autumn of 1931, Joseph Cornell stumbled into the newly opened Julien Levy Gallery at 602 Madison Avenue, where, on that fateful day, he watched Levy himself unpack several Surrealist works. It was there, at the gallery which was soon to become a magnet for avant-garde art, poetry and film, that Cornell was most widely exposed to the artistic movement, and its artists--most notably Max Ernst--that were to more or less directly inform, and subsequently usher in, Cornell's own artistic practice, including the creation of one of his very first objects, Untitled (Glass Bell).

Not long after his first encounter with the Levy Gallery-and consequently the work of Ernst-Cornell embarked upon his first series of small collages executed on cardboard, which employed the photo-collage technique of Ernst. Undoubtedly impressed with Cornell's efforts, Levy not only invited Cornell to show a selection of his works among his European peers, but, more impressively, asked the burgeoning artist to design the cover of the catalogue for the show, which was to include works by Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Eugène Atget, Georges Platt Lynes, László Maholy-Nagy and Salvador Dalí, whose Persistence of Memory emerged as the highlight of the show for Cornell. In fact, the flattery that his very first works "shared the walls with the premiere of Dalí's famous watch piece," was to stay with Cornell for the rest of his life (J. Cornell, in correspondence to T. Messer, circa 1966-67, reprinted in D. Waldman, Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams, New York, 2002, p. 21). Surréalisme, as it was to be called, opened in January 1932, and being only the second show to introduce Surrealism to the United States--the first having been organized by A. Everett (Chick) Austin at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut the previous year--it evolved as the landmark exhibition launching the movement in New York. Only enhancing the historical significance of the show was the inclusion of Cornell's large Untitled (Glass Bell), which had at that moment notably become the artist's first publicly acknowledged and exhibited object. Aptly illustrating the Surrealist notion laid down by Paul Nougé that the Surrealist paints the "bewildering object and the accidental encounter... by isolating the object... breaking off its ties with the rest of the world. ...We may cut off a hand and place it on the table or we may paint the image of the cut-off hand on the wall," Untitled (Glass Bell) contains the hand of a mannequin holding a collaged rose beneath a bell jar. A Japanese fan that was once situated behind the hand has since been lost (P. Nougé quoted in, ibid., p. 21).

Already exhibiting Cornell's insightful interest in the Victorian era and his keen disposition for uncanny juxtapositions, Untitled (Glass Bell), which was most likely influenced by Ernst's photomontage The Chinese Nightingale (Le Rossignol chinois), René Magritte's The False Mirror and Odilon Redon's The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity, fuses the Victorian into the surreal. Thus, while at first glance the rose appears similar to the silk roses of the Victorian era, the emergence of a central eye evokes the popular Surrealist symbol of the subconscious. Likewise, while the implementation of the found hand signals those used in Victorian times as signs pointing the way, or the prop in the popular game "Chiromagica," where an engraved spinning hand would point the player to his or her answer, it had also become a favorite device by proto-Surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico. A popular conceit for displaying clocks, model ships, taxidermy birds, as well as other objects, the bell jar, here, becomes a looking glass into the blossoming vocabulary of its maker. Standing out among the objects, photographs and paintings exhibited in Surréalisme in 1932, this seemingly unassuming object trouvé was further selected for the Winter of 1937 issue of the Parisian journal Minotaure, edited by André Breton and Pierre Mabille, as Cornell's first artwork to be reproduced in Europe. The overall success of Surréalisme, and in particular for Cornell and his Untitled (Glass Bell), launched the artist's early relationship with the Levy Gallery. Through by 1936 the artist would publicly denounce any associations with the Surrealist movement, it is true that in the early years of his output he was seen as an important discovery within the context of Surrealism. In November 1932, Levy mounted an exhibition of etchings by Picasso alongside a variety of works by Cornell, described as "Minutiae, Glass Bells, Shadow Boxes, Coups d'oeil, and Jouets Surréalistes (Surrealist Toys)." Though the term jouets surréalistes was largely an invention of the artist, it invited an entirely new type of construction, which he would continue to evolve throughout his career.

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