“He was a bit reclusive, but became famous in his lifetime with exhibitions in major museums around the world,” said Matthew McLendon, who has curated a special exhibition on display at the The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia.
Cornell’s creations are visible in several major cities across the U.S., especially New York, but right here in Charlottesville, visitors can view the six Cornell boxes donated to The Fralin’s permanent collection – including four donated from the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation – in a special exhibition, “Enclosing Infinity.”
Although Cornell also worked in collage and experimental film, he is best known for these box constructions, also called “assemblage” art.
“They’re the first things that come to mind, and we’re really fortunate at The Fralin to have six in our collection,” said McLendon, the museum’s J. Sanford Miller Family Director. “It just seemed the obvious choice when thinking about how to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his passing, to bring all of the boxes out together.”
The museum often displays one or two at a time, but from now until Feb. 12, all six will occupy a room all to themselves.
In a dramatically dark gallery, spotlights shine on each box, arranged so viewers can walk around the whole structure.
“Cornell is often referred to as an American surrealist, but he didn’t think of himself as a surrealist,” McLendon said, “although he was greatly influenced by, and very fond of, surrealism. His first exhibitions were in a gallery in New York that really brought surrealism to America.