The Dovecote works are distinct within Cornell’s oeuvre, notable for their minimalist aura of absence. Formally based on the birdhouses after which they are named, they represent the continuation of an ornithological theme within Cornell’s praxis. In the late 1940s, he had created the hugely popular Aviaries – glass-fronted boxes with reproductions of parrots and cockatoos inside. The Dovecotes are at once their sequitur and their antithesis: blank white where the Aviaries are filled with colourful images, sombre in tone where the Aviaries were jarring and loud. As exemplified by the present work, the Dovecotes represent Joseph Cornell at his most rarefied and elegant. Although Cornell barely ever left New York, he was obsessed by European culture and European sensibilities. Thus, it is entirely fitting that works such as the present came to have an impact on such European visionaries as Jan Schoonhoven, Enrico Castellani, and Piero Manzoni. Cornell was a pioneer of the objet d’art in the post-war period and the present work demonstrates the extraordinary prescience of his style.
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