Joseph Cornell: Inspired Arrangements

While doing research for a recent design project, I was looking at the work of Joseph Cornell — one of my favorite artists — and it occurred to me that his ability to create compelling arrangements from found objects required very much the same eye that I would love to bring to displaying objects in my home.

Though he had no formal training, Cornell (1902-1973) had a designer's vision when it came to assembling his glass fronted boxes which he filled with pages from old books, and various odds and ends resulting in sculptures that became much more than the sum of their parts.

Considering that creating eye-pleasing compositions with everyday items is practically what we live and breathe here at Apartment Therapy, we thought we'd try to learn a few lessons from Cornell's assemblages that might translate to arranging objects ourselves.

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Above: An arrangement of animal figurines in Jen & Rob's Gothic Bungalow

Sticking to a limited color palette, possibly with one or two accent colors, when grouping objects will simplify a composition, create a sense of unity, and keep an arrangement from getting too busy. Careful editing is also important for unifying a display — no matter how much you love a particular object, if it doesn't work as part of a group, take it away and show it off somewhere else. Finally, let your display tell a story. The appeal of Cornell's boxes is the sense of nostalgia, mystery, and surprise that surrounds them. Combining things that might not normally be put on display or go together or arranging them in a unique way is exciting for being unexpected.

If you are inspired to try making your own Joseph Cornell-style artwork, the website for the book The Joseph Cornell Box provides a list of materials resources for would-be box-makers.

Top Images: Mark Harden/WebMuseum