press release

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, presents Joseph Cornell: Fernweh. This landmark exhibition, tracing the full arc of the artist's remarkable life and career, includes many of his most important works, from collages, films and early objects produced in the 1930s to the intricate box constructions for which he is best known today. It will be the first survey of Cornell's work ever to be presented in Austria, and the first major exhibition in Europe for more than 30 years. The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the Royal Academy, London.

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust continues the series of retrospective surveys of modern masters at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien that began with Lucian Freud in 2013. Presented within the museum, the works of Joseph Cornell enter into fascinating conversations with all sorts of historical objects, from Renaissance paintings to Egyptian burial keepsakes. But it is with the museum's imperial Kunstkammer and its holdings of mirabilia, naturalia, artificialia and scientifica that this dialogue is most intense.

Over more than 40 years, Cornell created his own private cabinet of curiosities every bit as astonishing as those assembled by the kings, emperors and aristocrats of Renaissance Europe. Like them, he took pleasure in small things, and in the stories that they told. Like them, he sought to capture the world in a box, in an attempt to understand its workings and our place within it. And like them, he presented special objects as gifts to special people. The only difference was their material value. Cornell was not interested in costly or extravagant objects: his was a world of simple treasures, transformed into the most marvelous and precious of creations. He was, a friend once said, "the Benvenuto Cellini of flotsam and jetsam."

Cornell never once set foot outside his native country, and beyond his schooling and a few childhood holidays, rarely strayed far from home—and yet, his knowledge of the world, and of Europe in particular, was astounding. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will examine in detail Cornell's relationship with the continent of Europe, his knowledge and understanding of its culture, history and geography, and his relationship with many of its key personalities, from writers and composers to ballet dancers and stargazers. The exhibition's title, Wanderlust, acknowledges his restless imagination and ability to travel metaphorically through both place and time. His particular interest in Austria, in Vienna, and in specific works from the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien will also be revealed.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks and lectures by scholars, writers and critics including Orhan Pamuk, Deborah Solomon, Kirsten Hoving, Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz. In addition, films by Joseph Cornell will be screened at the Austrian Film Museum over two evenings on 11–12 November 2015.

Joseph Cornell: Fernweh is curated by Jasper Sharp (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna) and Sarah Lea (Royal Academy, London) in collaboration with academic advisor Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, and is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue. The exhibition has been made possible by major support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.