Few artists have made so much impact out of so little influence, and so little art out of so many objects, as Joseph Cornell. His method was a simple two-step process: the "ambulatory affair" of wandering the streets of Manhattan looking for lost objects; and the "distillation" as he edited down his findings, at a rate of a thousand to one, by one estimate, into the cabinets of curiosities for which he is known. The Surrealist object had been hinted at in furtive examples by Marcel Duchamp, but when Surrealism's founder André Breton went looking to expand the notion in the 1930s, he found Joseph Cornell, already a master. While there are antecedents in still-life painting, in the collages of Max Ernst, and elsewhere, Cornell's boxes were a unique medium when Cornell began his elegiac tributes to ballerinas in the 1930s. These shadowboxes cast an extraordinary shadow, far beyond the short period of association with Surrealism. From Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, from Pop Art to street art, the Cornell Box is a ubiquitous form of appropriative expression. Through them all runs a thread of longing and loss that Cornell navigated his entire life, attempting to capture what the artist called an "eterniday"-meaning "forever" captured within the box on a calendar that is a single day.
Joseph Cornell's Eternidays