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Joseph Cornell
UNTITLED (MEDICI SERIES, PINTURICCHIO BOY)
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Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
4,000,0006,000,000
LOT SOLD. 4,212,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
16
Joseph Cornell
UNTITLED (MEDICI SERIES, PINTURICCHIO BOY)
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
4,000,0006,000,000
LOT SOLD. 4,212,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York

Joseph Cornell
1903 - 1972
UNTITLED (MEDICI SERIES, PINTURICCHIO BOY)
signed on a label affixed to the reverse
wood box construction
15 3/4 by 12 by 4 in. 40 by 30.5 by 10.2 cm.
Executed circa 1950. 
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1998

Exhibited

New York, Castelli, Feigen, Corcoran, Joseph Cornell: Art and Metaphysics, May - June 1982, p. 50, no. 8, illustrated in color
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Joseph Cornell, April - May 1984, n.p., no. 38, illustrated 
Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art; Shiga, The Museum of Modern Art; Kurashiki, The Ohara Museum of Art; and Sakura, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, Joseph Cornell, October 1992 - May 1993, p. 90, no. 21, illustrated
New York, C&M Arts, Joseph Cornell: Box Constructions and Collages, January - March 1996, no. 19, n.p., illustrated in color
West Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, Joseph Cornell: Box Constructions and Collages, March - May 1997, n.p., illustrated in color
Lyon, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Joseph Cornell et les Surréalistes à New York: Dali, Duchamp, Ernst, Man Ray..., October 2013 – February 2014, no. 248, pp. 398-399

Literature

Exh. Cat., Tokyo, Gatodo Gallery, Seven Boxes by Joseph Cornell, 1978, n.p., fig. 18, illustrated in color


Catalogue Note

From behind his glimmering veneer of glass, the brazen youth of Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy) boldly meets the viewer’s eye, inviting us to encounter, enter, and explore the private and particularized mind of Joseph Cornell. Created circa 1950, the present work is a superb example of Cornell’s celebrated Medici Slot Machines, the series considered by many to be the artist’s greatest works. Suffused with an enigmatic mystique, these intricate compositions hint at a world of immense, interrelated significance and memory, lying just beyond the our grasp; frozen for time immemorial with the objects Cornell has painstakingly selected, the gaze of the boy achieves a striking poignancy, while the small ball and glittering jacks are imbued with an almost talismanic power. As critical acclaim for Cornell’s idiosyncratic practice has increased exponentially in the last several decades, Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy) has been included in a number of the significant exhibitions organized to celebrate his fascinating oeuvre, including Joseph Cornell: Box Constructions and Collages at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in 1997, and Joseph Cornell et les Surréalistes à New York, Dali, Duchamp, Ernst, Man Ray at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, in 2013. Further distinguishing the present work, Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy) was held in the personal collection of the infamously reclusive artist from the date of its creation until Cornell’s death in 1972, after which the work remained in the collection of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation for several decades. Selected as one of the only sculptures photographed alone by Hans Namuth during the photographer's session at Cornell's home in New York, the present work bears a remarkable history of appreciation. Intimate, delicate, and utterly mysterious, Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy) profoundly embodies Marcel Jean’s description of Cornell’s practice in 1959: “His ‘crystal cages,’ guardians of clear, urgent dreams, are made in the image of a solitary man who would like to be unapproachable and yet is tormented by a desire to communicate with his fellow men Between his hands, small worlds spring gulp unceasingly, full of reality and life.” (Marcel Jean and Arpad Mezei, trans. S. W. Taylor, The History of Surrealist Painting, New York, 1960, p, 317)

Originally associated with the Surrealist painters and poets during the 1930s, Cornell pursed a unique artistic practice peripheral to—and resolutely independent of—the flourishing of the New York School during the late 1940s and 1950s. First initiated in 1942, Cornell’s seminal series of the Medici Slot Machines profoundly embody the artist’s uncanny ability to collect, distill, and gracefully interrelate seemingly disparate sources of inspiration within the spare but poetic tableau of his shadow boxes. While the artist created numerous boxes engaged with a variety of themes, the Medici works are particularly striking in their lyrical juxtaposition of sources from high and low source material. Named after the Medici’s of Florence, the family synonymous with European cultural enlightenment, the Medici Slot Machines are centered around four distinctive portraits of children by Italian Renaissance artists. In the present work, Cornell’s box frames the face and torso Pinturicchio’s Portrait of a Boy from 1500, held in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. The gaze of Pinturichio’s portrait sitter, like that of the other Renaissance children Cornell has chosen to feature, is uncannily arresting, the solemn gaze imbued with a somber, almost melancholy maturity uncommon to such a youthful face. Smaller images of the boy line the box on either side of his visage, conjuring visions of an unspooling roll of film, frozen in place; describing another example from the series, Diane Waldman notes, “The complex play of imagery, sequentially strung out (or spliced) like a series of film clips, with the implication of movement in both time and space, reconstructs the history of the Renaissance prince and juxtaposes the images of his imaginary childhood…with current objects (marbles and jacks), so that the Renaissance child becomes contemporary. Certain objects are brought into the present through color, while others, monochromatic, recede into the past.” (Diane Waldman, Joseph Cornell, New York, 1977, p. 21)

The enchanting and irresistible draw of Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy) lies, not in the somber subject of Pinturicchio’s portrait, but profound significance and associative relationships which govern Cornell’s particularized selection of objects and images with which to surround the central figure. The construction of the Medici Slot Machines is heavily influenced by Cornell’s childhood impressions of New York penny-arcade machines, elaborate contraptions synonymous, in the mind of the artist, with the enchantments of childhood. The structure of the present work, with the sequential stacking of imagery on either side and the lower compartment of whimsical baubles, conjures the notion of play and the childhood thrill of victoriously securing a prize. Remarking upon his Slot Machines, Cornell described them as something “that might be encountered in a penny arcade in a dream.” (Joseph Cornell cited in Deborah Solomon, Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, Boston, 1997, p. 139) The sense of wonder that is central to Cornell’s oeuvre is made all the more potent here, as Cornell offers the viewer the ephemeral promise of entertainment through his art. As described by Deborah Solomon, “What makes the Medici Slot Machines so memorable is not merely the mixing of disparate elements, but the potent new meanings they acquire in the process. A Renaissance princeling is made to seem part of the present, while a candy machine in a subway station becomes the vaulted palace in which he resides.” (Ibid., p. 140) Standing before Untitled (Medici series, Pinturicchio Boy), the viewer is struck by the intimacy of Cornell’s project, the artist placing the fruit of his memories and private associations upon display. Each element, from the faded fragments of unknown maps to the scarred wooden block, has been painstakingly chosen by the artist; while the rational scheme behind the selection may remain elusive to the viewer, the promise of revelation keeps us looking, pressed against the glass.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York