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Joseph Cornell

/Works and biography

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Setting for a Fairy Tale, 1942
Box construction, 29.4 x 36.6 x 9.9 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553 PG 125
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, by SIAE 2008


Joseph Cornell here creates a coherent miniaturized world. A black painted border on the surface of the glass frames a white palace and serves as a proscenium that invokes the world of theater and spectacle. The title Setting for a Fairy Tale enhances the stage-model associations of the construction. Cornell’s setting is a reproduction of Jacques Androuet du Cerceau’s engraving, first published in 1576, of the Château de Madrid in Paris. For Cornell, fairy tales had specific associations with the romantic ballet. His favorite ballets included classics such as Sleeping Beauty, from which certain details, such as the bramble of twigs suggesting a dense forest around the palace, may derive. In the present construction the viewer's imaginative participation is not physical, but psychological and creative. The viewer may be playwright, choreographer, director, and performer in the spectacle of his choice. In a careful scrutiny of the work the mirrored surfaces not only offer the illusion of shimmering glass windows, but also engage the viewer in a multifaceted reflection and discovery of oneself.

credits: Hangar Design Group