Joseph Cornell

“Object (Soap Bubble Set)” by Joseph Cornell, 1941

Something about Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes makes me uncomfortable. It’s a little like looking at someone else’s dream. All artists have a vision, which they then transform into a work of art; Joseph Cornell has somehow skipped a step and put his vision in a box.

I still like it, in a fascinated sort of way. This one makes me think of pipes and the smell of tobacco (rather than sea shells and bubbles). Somewhere along the line I find myself thinking of my older sister, who is visiting right now from her European home of many years. We are alike in many genetic ways, but in her years apart she has become accustomed to things that I am not accustomed to. Things that make me uncomfortable and make her happy. It really has nothing to do with pipes and tobacco. But maybe it has something to do with the otherworldly sea objects. They are neither good nor bad in themselves, but these shells are so close to being dreams that they could easily transform into nightmares depending on the person who dreams them. Do you get that sense? That this artwork could make one person happy and another anxious? That’s what it’s like with my sister. I get anxious around her when she is saying or wearing or buying things that she can’t even comprehend as being nightmarish. It’s not fair to either person, and I suppose it will be what forms a barrier between us. These are things communication does not solve.


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