Joseph Cornell, Celestial Navigation, c. 1958. Box construction with wood, glasses, marbles, plaster head, painted cork ball, metal rods, nails, paper collage, tempera, and painted glass, 9 5/8 × 16 1/4 × 4 in. (24.5 × 41.3 × 10.2 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 60th Anniversary Gift of Estée Lauder Inc. 92.24a-k
NARRATOR: In the early 1930s, Cornell began to make the assemblages for which he is best known—small boxes filled with objects and images that the artist found in local bookshops and thrift stores. He collected these things obsessively, eventually accumulating over 160 dossiers on different subjects. The things he collected were related to his favorite subjects: nineteenth-century sopranos, ballet, European literature, cinema, and astronomy. Rarely leaving his home on Utopia Parkway in Queens, Cornell transformed these materials into poignant, nostalgic fantasies for the better part of four decades.