Joseph Cornell was an innovative artist, known for his inventive collages, experimental films, and shadow box constructions containing found objects and discarded materials. As an artist, Cornell was largely self-taught. Born in Nyack, New York, he worked as a textile salesman for nearly a decade. After moving to Flushing, New York in 1929, Cornell began creating collages, using photographs, clippings from magazines, and other images from popular culture. He was an avid collector and searched through local stores, book shops, and antique fairs for objects and memorabilia. By the mid-1930s, Cornell had begun creating his signature shadow boxes. These works, typically faced with glass, juxtapose disparate images and objects together, creating wondrous environments. Many of the boxes, like his celebrated Medici Slot Machine series, were designed to be interactive.
Although his work was included in the 1932 exhibition Surréalisme at Julien Levy Gallery and the 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, Cornell did not label himself a Surrealist. He was, however, familiar with artists creating Surrealist works, such as Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Salvador Dalí. Cornell’s works stand alongside his contemporaries as inventive creations. They can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.