One of the hallmarks of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), perhaps the most radical artist of this century, was his generous collaboration with artists, patrons, and art dealers in creating works of art, exhibitions, and collections. A particularly fruitful example is his little-known encounter with the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972). Joseph Cornell/Marcel Duchamp…in resonance, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 8, 1998, through January 3, 1999, assembles some 57 works by Cornell and 32 by Duchamp, allowing visitors to explore in depth for the first time the friendship and working relationship between them. Exhibited for the first time is a little-known, untitled work created by Cornell in tribute to Duchamp—the "Duchamp Dossier"—found among Cornell's possessions after his death and given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation in 1990. The exhibition was jointly organized by The Menil Collection, Houston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is also supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Duchamp and Cornell first met briefly in late 1933 in New York, and renewed their friendship when Duchamp returned to New York in 1942. Duchamp promptly engaged the younger artist to assist him in assembling editions of his current project, the "portable museum" of his work commonly referred to as the Box-in-Valise (Boîte-en-Valise). During the course of his employment on Duchamp's Box, Cornell began assembling his "Duchamp Dossier," which would ultimately contain 117 items ranging from Mona Lisa memorabilia, dry-cleaning receipts, and the artists' personal correspondence to assembly materials from Duchamp's Box-in-Valise and a unique preparatory work for Duchamp's Genre Allegory of 1943, which will be shown along with the first collage on this theme lent by the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
While Marcel Duchamp was widely recognized in his lifetime for his extraordinary innovations that would forever change how we define art, Cornell—one of the most important American artists of his generation—remains inadequately understood. Best known are his "boxes"—weathered, glass-fronted constructions that Cornell himself referred to as "poetic theaters." Because of the intimate nature of these boxes, they do not appear revolutionary on first encounter, but in fact have had an enormous influence on artists here and abroad. In addition to the boxes, Cornell made many films, a vast number of collages, and many compilations of images and written material which he called "explorations" or "dossiers."
This exhibition focuses especially on the artists' shared practice of preserving notes and information. Rarely seen examples of Cornell's explorations or dossiers include works devoted to such idols of his as the actress Lauren Bacall and the 19th-century ballerina Fanny Cerrito. Also on view are Duchamp's carefully produced editions of his notes, such as the Green Box, published in 1934 as an adjunct to his masterpiece, The Large Glass, and a never-before exhibited box of notes devoted to chess. A select group of objects and readymades by Duchamp and boxes by Cornell will demonstrate the artists' shared interests. Finally, a cluster of rare objects will suggest that the inspiration of Cornell's boxes may have played a role in Duchamp's creating his last great work, Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas (Etant Donnés), 1946-66.
It is particularly fitting that the exhibition should be seen at these two museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses the foremost collection in the world of works by Marcel Duchamp, including: Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2, 1912, the Cubist painting that provoked a storm of controversy at the 1913 Armory Show in New York and which remains his best-known work; The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), a mysterious erotic saga delineated on glass panels; and Given (Etant Donnés), 1946-66, a room-sized tableau viewed through two peepholes in a weathered door. The Menil Collection in Houston houses a superb collection of 20th-century art, and particularly Surrealism, including substantial holdings of works Joseph Cornell, several of which are in this exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book that publishes for the first time Cornell's "Duchamp Dossier." The book has an introduction by Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and co-organizer of the 1973 exhibition Marcel Duchamp, with contributions from Ecke Bonk, author of the definitive study of Duchamp's Box-in-Valise; Susan Davidson, Associate Curator of The Menil Collection; Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the National Museum of American Art; Walter Hopps, Curator of The Menil Collection; independent graphic designer and scholar Don Quaintance; and Ann Temkin, Curator of 20th-Century Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The publication, Joseph Cornell/Marcel Duchamp…in resonance, contains 150 color plates and over 325 black-and-white illustrations and is available at the Museum Store.