joseph cornell’s “aviary [cockatoo and watches]” sold big at christie’s

Joseph Cornell, "Aviary [Cockatoo and Watches]" (detail), c. 1948,
Joseph Cornell, “Aviary [Cockatoo and Watches]” (detail), c. 1948, 16.25 x 17.12 x 4.5″ (41.28 x 43.5 x 11.43 cm), wood box construction, paint, glass, metal and printed paper collage, with music box

The Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction which took place on November 12, 2014 in NYC yielded sales totaling $852,877,000 (€682,309,600) — the highest total auction in history.

Five works by Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) from the Bergman Collection [watch the video] were offered at the auction, led by Cockatoo and Watches Aviary, which sold for a whopping $4,757,000 (€3,805,600) — much higher than its estimated value of $2,500,000-$3,500,000. Made circa 1948 – 50, it was also on the cover of the catalog published on the occasion of the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1981, as well as the cover of Christie’s beautiful catalog, Joseph Cornell: Aviaries, Habitata, Petit Musée, and the Romantic Ballet.

Joseph Cornell, "Aviary [Cockatoo and Watches]", c. 1948
Joseph Cornell, “Aviary [Cockatoo and Watches]”, c. 1948, 16.25 x 17.12 x 4.5″ (41.28 x 43.5 x 11.43 cm), wood box construction, paint, glass, metal and printed paper collage, with music box

Cornell was interested in the curiosities of daily life and the value we put on simple and exotic objects. He was concerned with the passing of time and our navigation through it, dreams, music, movement, travel, and with birds. This piece was part of a celebrated series of bird-related constructions Cornell made, called Aviaries.

With his assemblage constructions of boxes, containers, and window-shop glimpses, he created and preserved new worlds, collaged fantasies, and stages for fascinating and surreal narratives. Cornell was a collector of intimate objects, parts, pieces, and ephemera — a lover of the Kunstkabinett, or cabinet of curiosities.

Image from the Joseph Cornell studio archives: watch faces
Image from the Joseph Cornell studio archives: watch faces

In the Aviary [Cockatoo and Watches], he uses several pocket watch faces like the ones I collect and use in jewelry. If you look closely, many of them are ELGIN watches — made from the now defunct Elgin Watch Factory from my hometown in Illinois. I love the work of Joseph Cornell. Maybe I can save up for one of his Aviaries….

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