About this artwork
Cornell worked on both the front and back of this masonite board. Based on the inscription, he preferred the side made of collaged color photographs, showing a female figurehead emerging from a tree-shaded garden, and regarded it as the front. Cornell‘s usual practice in his boxes was to work all surfaces, and he often extended this practice to his collages, which are, like this one, frequently double-sided.
His preference in this case for one side over the other throws light on what it was that Cornell regarded as “successful.” He may have been aiming to achieve similar effects by different means on the two different sides of this collage. Broadly speaking, we could locate these effects with in the Surrealist notion of depaysement, that is, the disorientation of the viewer, through the displacement and odd combination of familiar objects and settings.
On the front, the sculpture of a woman is set in a wood land garden, composed of tree trunks, azaleas, Japanese maples, and shade-loving flowers in the foreground nature, in other words, carefully tended in it s luxuriance. The carved figure of the woman is probably a ship‘s figurehead, though the raised arm and flowing hail also recall French allegorical images of Liberty. She “sails” across the woodland floor like a galleon, thriving on the disorientation of place, on being “out of her element,” and enhancing, by her association with the sea, the green underwater atmosphere of the wood. She also resembles the type of eighteenth-century, animated garden statue seen, for example, in the park settings of Jean Antoine Watteau‘s paintings.
The other side of the collage inverts this idea. Here, “nature” is trapped inside the glass jar—not just in the form of a still life (nature morte, or dead nature) of grapes and other fruits, but in the form of a “live” linnet as well. The watch face set into the bottle just below the stopper also reinforces a connection with Joseph Wright of Derby’s Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768, London, National Gallery; Judy Egerton, Wright of Del’ by, London, Tate Gallery, 1990, exh. cat., no. 21, ill), in which a dove is placed within a glass jar and sacrificed to a timed scientific experiment in a vacuum.
Cornell may have thus preferred the front because the sense of enclosure, of nature trapped, was too complete on the back. The sense of depaysement, which he planned to achieve through contrasting effects on both sides, was too disturbing, conceived in terms of life and death. In the woodland scene on the front, Cornell was able to achieve a gentler kind of disruption by emphasizing what links rather than separates the images.
— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 98-99.
- Joseph Cornell
- Untitled (Collage #36)
- United States
- Collage composed of cut and pasted, commercially printed papers and gray wove paper, on untempered masonite
- Inscribed verso: "J.C.; too misleading for a full fledged signature / recto worthy of development? 8 years later / would cancel out this / verso in favor of the / recto. / Something didn't come / through"
- 343 × 241 mm
- Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection
- © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York