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Joseph Cornell

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Joseph Cornell loved the ballet, broken glass, nude models from photography manuals, jewels and jewel boxes, airplanes and ships, old books, old master paintings, optical devices, palace facades, penny arcades, photographs of movie stars, sand, soap bubbles, star maps, stuffed birds, and toys. Scouring Woolworth’s, bookstores, second-hand and antique stores, and other promising-looking outlets across the US and Europe, he gradually accumulated materials presented in the 177 boxes, collages, graphic design projects, dossiers, and films that were shown in a recent exhibition—the artist’s first retrospective in twenty-six years—curated by Lynda Hartigan and co-organized with the Peabody Essex Museum.

Yet despite Cornell’s seemingly indiscriminate range of obsessions, the show’s contextual material—books and magazines, record albums, diary pages, and all manner of other paraphernalia and

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