So, what did I learn about Joseph Cornell in the course of the opening ? That he was, shy, reticent, unknowable, never travelled to Europe except in his imagination, was obsessed by the nineteenth-century ballet. Richard Feigen, who became his dealer, used to visit him in his small house on Utopia Parkway on the way back from Kennedy Airport. He kept his collections of objects and memorabilia in the basement. His great nephew sat on the beach with him but still did know him because a) he was unknowable b) he spent his time travelling obsessively in his imagination.
I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to go through our Cornell exhibition, which opens tomorrow, designed by Carmody Groarke. I remember the 1981 exhibition at the Whitechapel which was a revelation, introducing an artist with an intelligent eye for the imaginatively suggestive assembly of disparate objects and paper artefacts into boxes. I gather he didn’t want to be regarded as a surrealist, but, looking at the exhibition, it seems pretty obvious that his aesthetic was surrealist in terms of the unlikely and witty juxtaposition of different elements of collage, quite apart from the fact that he was a friend of Duchamp and, at the end of the exhibition, did two works which are homages to Magritte.