Unboxed

It's easy to dismiss Joseph Cornell's shadow boxes, with their scrapbook strata of maps and chateaus and owls, as kitsch. But these deceptively simple assemblages cast a long shadow. Cornell, self-taught and antisocial, spent his life shuttling between his mother's house in Queens and Manhattan junk shops, using what he found there to piece together tiny worlds under glass. In SFMOMA's sweeping retrospective "Navigating the Imagination," which features nearly 200 works, the viewer can discern strains of found art, outsider art, pop art, installation art, and, of course, the surrealism with which he was catalogued. Most intriguingly, the exhibit includes screenings of Cornell's films, which have become as acclaimed as his boxes since his death in 1972. Like his collages, these films were made of footage he found in junk shops. In The Children's Trilogy, for example, shots of a child's party are cut with images of a circus and a science documentary. When Cornell first screened these montages, the legend goes, Salvador Dali was in attendance. Dali became outraged, overturned the projector, and accused Cornell of stealing his idea for a film. If it gave Dali a meltdown, you know it has to be good.
Oct. 6-Jan. 6, 2007

 
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