Joseph Cornell with his box “Garbo: The Crystal Mask,” c 1939.
He was a package of paradoxes. He admired women, yet never married. A filmmaker, he never owned a camera. He loved music, but never took up an instrument. During his career as an artist, however, Joseph Cornell focused his relentless energy on collecting bits of paper, dime-store toys and natural objects, such as stones and seashells. He arranged these objects in glass-fronted boxes reminiscent of the “shadow boxes” favored in Victorian-era homes for showing off accumulations of precious minutia.