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Untitled (Forgotten Game)

A work made of box construction.
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

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  • A work made of box construction.


c. 1949


Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

The Forgotten games are among the most evocative of Cornell’s boxes, and the Bergman version is perhaps the most completely realized of them all. There are evidently links here with the Dovecote series, but the primary reference is to games and toys, which had an enduring fascination for Cornell. As is often the case with Cornell‘s work, the active involvement of the spectator is invited. This box is not a purely visual game; it also moves and makes sounds. As noted in the media description, through a small trapdoor in the upper right side of the box, a ball can be rolled down a series of ramps to hit five yellow bells hung above the ramps, which the ball rings as it passes, finally hitting the silver bell visible through the cracked pane of glass at the bottom right. This last bell rings with a faint, flawed note as though penetrating a fog at sea. Five rows of six circular holes each are cut into the wood front of the box, which is painted an ivory white and weathered to look like a neglected birdhouse. Cornell devised various ways of purposefully aging surfaces, and the flaking of the paint here, like the cracked glass, is intentional. The holes are smallest at the beginning of each slope and increase in size, as it were, in pace with the growing noise of the ball gathering speed as it descends each ramp in turn.

Sounds are essential to this box: both the rumbling of the rolling ball and the periodic tinkling of the bells. ‘Writing about this work, Diane Waldman recalled Max Ernst quoting Leonardo da Vinci, “like the tinkling of a bell, which makes one hear that which one imagines” (Max Ernst, “Au dela de la peinture,” Cahiers d’art 2, 6 – 7 [1936], n. pag.; cited in Waldman 1977, p. 26). One is also reminded of the continuous ringing of a bell in Salvador Dalí and Luis Bunuel’s film L’Age d’or (1929), throughout the scene in which the young woman gazes into a mirror and dreams of the man she loves. In this box, Cornell used sound as vividly as he did visual and kinetic elements to invoke memory.

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p.58-59.


On View, Gallery 397


Modern Art


Joseph Cornell


Untitled (Forgotten Game)


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Box construction


53.7 × 39.4 × 9.9 cm (21 1/8 × 15 1/2 × 3 7/8 in.)

Credit Line

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection

Reference Number



© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

Extended information about this artwork

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