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Joseph Cornell's Manual of Marvels

Joseph Cornell

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Joseph Cornell's Manual of Marvels
All works of art by Joseph Cornell (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation
Back before there was even an art term to describe it, "assemblages" were created by the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903 - 1972). These boxes filled with treasures, found items, paper scraps, and assorted little bits and pieces in an unknown and unnamed art technique, not named until an art show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961.

After Cornell's death in 1972 an amazing book was discovered in his basement studio. The book was a french agriculture book, Journal d'Agriculture Practique, (Volume 21, 1911), that he discovered during his rummaging through used bookstalls in Manhattan. The old book was purchased in the early 1930s, at which time Cornell started to alter the book into collage of pages filled with art and images.

Manual of Marvels

The book has become known as the Manual of Marvels. According to scholars, Cornell worked on the book over many years. Picking it up to add a few collages, or hand-colorng engravings, and then putting the book back down again, until he was inspired to work on it once again.

Cutouts in the pages would reveal an illustration on another page, perhaps a piece of origami, an drawing or a cut-out magazine illustration.

The collages and photomontages make each page a delight as it's revealed.

The Cornell Box

All works of art by Joseph Cornell (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation
Publishers Thames & Hudson, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has reproduced Joseph Cornell's Manual of Marvels in a new and very different way.

From the publishers:
Fittingly presented in a Cornell box, the package includes a facsimile of sixty of the most extraordinary pages from the Journal, complete with cut-outs, pop-ups, and glue-ons, an interactive DVD of the entire work, and a volume of illustrated essays on the Journal and Cornell's artistic practice. Flip through the facsimile to find wonderful surprises: the Mona Lisa clutching delicate lotion bottles, a golden sun peeking through a hole in the text, a fashionable woman with a glued-on strawberry hat. Then, use the DVD to explore the text even further, or peruse the book of essays to learn what Cornell scholars have to say about the significance of the Manual.

Bottom Line

I love the way this whole package is presented to the reader -- the actual facsimile book, a book of essays about Cornell and the book project, and an interactive DVD with the entire works. It's all tied up neatly in a great looking Cornell box making it a perfect presentation piece.

The actual Untitled Book Object: Journal d'Agriculture Pratique et Journal de l'Agriculture (formal name) is a very fragile piece of art that has been impossible to exhibit. The goal of the publishers has been to make the entire work accessible and viewable, and although it is impossible to replicate it exactly, it's apparent that it's as close as possible.

Book lover, art historian, art lover and even crafters that like to work with found objects -- this will appeal to all the above.

Over the years there have been several book/kits that feature the Joseph Cornell box, including kits to make your own using his artwork as inspirations. If you're the least bit artistic and/or crafty, this book will most likely have you thinking more about altered books and art, perhaps even creating your own.


All works of art by Joseph Cornell (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation
Joseph Cornell's Manual of Marvels
Edited by Dickran Tashjian and Analisa Leppanen-Guerra
ISBN: 978-0-500-516949-2
Published: November 2012

About Cornell

Note: All works of art by Joseph Cornell (c) The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, 2002

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