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Joseph Cornell

/Works and biography

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Fortune Telling Parrot (Parrot Music Box), ca. 193738
Box construction, 40.8 x 22.2 x 17 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553 PG 126
The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, by SIAE 2008


Joseph Cornell lived an isolated life in Flushing, New York, from which he made frequent excursions into Manhattan to gather objects for his constructions. Working on his boxes at home in his cellar became a substitute for traveling, the arrangement of imaginary souvenirs inducing the excitement of voyages. Fortune Telling Parrot offers many associations with exotic travels. First, the box construction itself resembles the apparatus of a hurdy-gurdy, invoking the bohemian world of the traveling gypsy musician. The crank on the right exterior of the construction turns a broken music box, hidden in the lower-right corner of the sculpture. The music box in turn is attached by a thin rod to the cylinder above it, which is intended to revolve while music plays. The cylinder is covered with decorations, some of which suggest the paraphernalia and practices of the fortune-teller. Small stars on the cylinder and a map of the constellation of Ursa Minor, in the lower-left corner of the box, also allude to astrology and divination. The parrot itself is a common attribute of the itinerant fortune-teller.

credits: Hangar Design Group