Though I’m still a believer, I’m a bit too old to send a want list to Santa each year. But if I did, at the top of that list would be a Joseph Cornell box. Any box would do. Even one of the later collages from the 1960s would be just fine by me. But since Santa bestows linens and cooking utensils upon me these days, I keep my nose pressed against the glass on the Cornell boxes on exhibition at MoMA. (No, not really!)
Left: Joseph Cornell in his backyard in Flushing, New York, 1969. Right: Joseph Cornell’s home at 3708 Utopia Parkway, 1976
So imagine my excitement in 1995 when The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation donated a comprehensive gift of film materials made and collected by Joseph Cornell to MoMA’s Department of Film. In this collection are films made by Société Lumière, Georges Méliès, and Pathé Frères. These early film pioneers imbued their inventive cinematic efforts with magic, whimsy, fairies, and other-worldly adventures. Cornell—a sometimes mysterious figure in the New York art world who is best known for his collages, box constructions, and experimental films—was drawn to the escape that these enchanting moments of cinematic exploration afforded him while he remained firmly rooted to the middle-class landscape of Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. If film-going was a treasured diversion for Cornell—who was also a frequent visitor to the Museum’s Library, Archives, and galleries and who engaged in lively, revealing, and surprisingly humorous correspondence with Museum personnel—then just imagine his delight in corresponding with Iris Barry, the first curator of the MoMA Film Library and one of the most influential personalities in the world of film as art.