American artist and sculptor, one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. Influenced by the Surrealists, he was also an avant-garde experimental filmmaker.
Born 1903 in New York, as a son of textile designer. Apart from attending Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in the class of 1921 (which he did not graduate), Cornell spent most of his life within the New York City area.
Cornell was wary of strangers. This led him to isolate himself and become a self-taught artist. Although he expressed attraction to unattainable women like Lauren Bacall, his shyness made romantic relationships almost impossible. In later life his bashfulness verged toward reclusiveness, and he rarely left the state of New York. However, he preferred talking with women, and often made their husbands wait in the next room when he discussed business with them. He also had numerous friendships with ballerinas, who found him unique, but too eccentric to be a romantic partner. On the other hand, he was a close friend of Yayoi KUSAMA and has dedicated several of his works to her.
Cornell ended his career as a highly regarded artist but remained out of the spotlight. He produced fewer box assemblages in the 1950s and 1960s, as his family responsibilities increased and claimed more of his time. He hired a series of young assistants, including both students and established artists, to help him organize material, make artwork, and run errands. At this time, Cornell concentrated on making collages, and collaborated with filmmakers like Rudy Burckhardt, Stan Brakhage, and Larry Jordan to make films that were evocative of moving collages.
He died of heart failure few days after his sixty-ninth birthday in 1972.