Artwork of the month April

Joseph Cornell, Metaphysique d'Ephemera: NOVALIS, 1941

Joseph Cornell

*1903 in Nyack, New York, † 1972 in New York

 Metaphysique d'Ephemera: NOVALIS, 1941 

Wooden box, glass, velvet, feather, watchglass, paper, yarn

In this box, a white feather, fragments of a silver watch, a folded page of text – objects of different material properties – are presented like items of jewellery displayed on velvet. The coloured glass lends them an enigmatic appearance that prompts us to wonder whether they may be symbols of somethingm with a meaning that goes beyond the material – like the "blue flower" that came to encapsulate the spirit of an entire era.

The Romantic Age was shaped by the yearning for a world at one with itself, in which religion and mysticism found expression alongside a new awareness of history. In his writings, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772–1801), the novelist and leading theoretician of Romanticism, introduced this emblematic metaphor that is still associated with the movement today.

The objects that have been gathered together in his name all represent, in their own way, a sense of transience and mortality – the ephemeral. The word ephemera also describes a category of collectible items which, as functional objects intended for brief or one-time use, have become fragmentary documents of everyday life.

Joseph Cornell was a collector of just such objects. Following the death of his father, Cornell lived with his mother and younger brother Robert and supported the family by working as a textile salesman. Cornell never travelled. New York offered him everything he needed to satisfy his interest in art and culture. During the day, he would visit galleries and libraries. In the evening, he would go to the opera or the ballet. He trawled antiquarian bookstores and junk shops in search of material for his collages and for the boxes in which he created his seemingly bizarre juxtapositions of the most diverse things. Cornell himself called them "constructions" – underlining the deliberate arrangement of selected elements. It is this that makes the box dedicated to Novalis a kind of three- dimensional still life defying the passage of time.


<b>Joseph Cornell, Metaphysique d'Ephemera: NOVALIS, 1941 </b>
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein highlights a work from the permanent collection each month throughout the year. Works from the collection of the Hilti Art Foundation are also included in this series on a regular basis.