Fralin hosts surreal Joseph Cornell exhibit

A look at the esteemed artist’s career is fresh, unconventional


Coming to the University from its previous display in Lyon, France, “Joseph Cornell and Surrealism” is currently on display at the Fralin Museum. Curated by Matthew Affron and Sylvie Ramond, the exhibition places modern artist Cornell in context with the surrealist movement and his peers, featuring almost 100 works from renowned artists such as Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and, of course, Cornell himself.

This exhibition explores surrealism from the 1930s and 1940s and its focus on the mind. With the prefix “sur” meaning above, surreal therefore means “above the real,” causing many to view the form as both captivating and disturbing for its focus on subverting and building strangely on reality. This manipulation of reality stems from the artists’ aim “to express the activity of the unconscious or dreaming mind,” as described in the exhibition pamphlet.

While the paintings contain recognizable and familiar objects, the overall context and feelings of the work are completely different. This defamiliarization shows surrealists’ fascination with using the mind’s dark mysterious corners for “unfettered creative imagination.”

The exhibit fills the majority of the second floor of the Fralin and is divided into several parts. The first introduces visitors to the exhibition’s main artists, displaying photographs taken both by and of them. This section also includes smaller, more detailed prints. The back wall of the exhibit, meanwhile, is lined with paintings from different surrealists. Several short surrealist films are set up on small televisions in one gallery, and, in another, one large projector shows a loop of four films. Throughout the exhibit and featured in the smaller side gallery are shadowboxes — what Cornell is most famous for.

Cornell’s shadowboxes manipulate “arrangements of form, line and volume,” according to the exhibit. They are boxes, often set up on one side, whose tops are covered with a sheet of glass rather than a lid. Cornell then collages newspaper clippings and other forms of illustration to the sides of these boxes and often places three dimensional objects inside them.

A general favorite and featured display shows two boxes side by side. The first features an exotic bird surrounded by a background of collaged French newspaper and a few strips of blue sky. The bird is on a three-dimensional back support, but is cut from a photograph or magazine. A ball and hoop was also placed inside the box with it. The second box features a collage of shades of black which outline the form of the bird. It also contains a three-dimensional ring, which looks almost like a child’s bracelet. This piece brings up questions of freedom and entrapment, as well as life and death.

Though Cornell is often described as “a lone star within the surrealist constellation,” the exhibit explores Cornell’s work in conversation with other artists of his time, proving common themes exist among different pieces and emphasizing there are trends of the surrealist movement, such as defamiliarization of recognizable objects, that Cornell followed.

The exhibit will be on display until June 8.

Published April 21, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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