Untitled (Lighted Owl)

A work made of stained wood box with glass front, paper, light bulb, colored-paper image on wood form, plastic spider, tree bark, and dried leaves.
Art © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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  • A work made of stained wood box with glass front, paper, light bulb, colored-paper image on wood form, plastic spider, tree bark, and dried leaves.

Date:

c. 1949

Artist:

Joseph Cornell
American, 1903-1972

About this artwork

Cornell’s bird boxes often play with forms of representation and with the contrast between the natural and the artificial. In his trips into the countryside, he would often gather materials for his boxes, and in this one, the large, angular piece of bark placed toward the right interior edge may be the lump Cornell reported finding in January 1948 and described as “magnificently dried bark for owl bark, single piece, for owl boxes” (Cornell 1993, p. 152). In any case it adds a sense of depth to the box by providing a kind of opened curtain, from behind which the owl is revealed. The sheet of blue glass renders the interior as dark as a forest at night, and the small electric bulb above, when lit, suggests moonlight. The dramatic chiaroscuro effect prompts comparison with photography, as well as underlining the contrast between the two-dimensional pictorial representation of the owl and its “real” habitat. The numerous worm holes in the wood frame are the result of simulated rather than authentic insect damage and appear to be original to the box‘s construction. For more on Cornell‘s Owl Boxes, see Untitled (Large Owl).

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 61.

On View

Modern Art, Gallery 397

Artist

Joseph Cornell

Title

Untitled (Lighted Owl)

Origin

United States

Date

1944–1954

Medium

Stained wood box with glass front, paper, light bulb, colored-paper image on wood form, plastic spider, tree bark, and dried leaves

Inscriptions

Signed on back, lower center, on strip of paper: Joseph Cornell

Dimensions

14 3/8 × 10 1/4 × 5 3/16 in. + 1/4 in. D coverplate for electrical wire

Credit Line

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection

Reference Number

1982.1840

Copyright

Art © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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