Joseph Cornell's Cosmos: An Artist's Modern Interpretations of Ancient Myths
The American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) devoted his career to making collages and box constructions touching on a dizzying assortment of personal interests, reflected in an eclectic array of materials. Among his wide-ranging obsessions was the history of astronomy, especially myths of the constellations. Throughout his career, these stories provided the foundation for works that allude to modern advances in science, his own personal traumas, and popular culture. For instance, he employed the story of Andromeda to explore to new theories about the size and age of the universe; he labored for two decades on a Duchampian boite en valise devoted to his desire for an imaginary little girl astronomer named Berenice, embodied in the constellation Coma Berenices; upon the death of Marilyn Monroe he produced a commemorative assemblage with Custos Messium playing the part of a custodian to guard the deceased actress. Cornell's creative process offers a case study of the complex relations between myth and art, and the ways in which psychological myth theory can be applied to personalized reconfigurations of established tales of the stars.
Andromeda, Grand Hotel de l'Observatoire, 1954
The Crystal Cage, portrait of Berenice, 1937-67
Custodian II, Silent Dedication to MM, 1962-3
Kirsten Hoving is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Art History at Middlebury College in the USA. She is the author of numerous books and articles on a variety of topics in modern art, including her book Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars, published by Princeton University Press in 2009.