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Past Exhibition

Joseph Cornell × Mutuo Takahashi : Intimate Worlds Enclosed

Joseph Cornell, Untitled ( La Bella [ Parmigianino ] ) ca.1950 - 56
Glass – paned, painted wood box with reproduction, nails, wood, etc.
All the artworks by Joseph Cornell on this page :
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
©The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / VAGA, NY & SPDA, Tokyo, 2010

April 10 - July 19, 2010
9:30 - 17:00 (last admission 16:30)
Mondays (open May 3 and July 19), closed on May 6
Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art (DIC Corporation)
Chiba Prefecture / Chiba Prefectural Board of Education / Sakura City / Sakura City Board of Education

Homemade wooden boxes filled with an array of small objects such as shells, a star map of the heavens, a liqueur glass or an old reproduction of a painting. These are the creations Joseph Cornell spent years diligently crafting in his basement studio, They were at once works of art and treasure boxes for holding reminders of the happy days of his childhood, as well as shelves for storing his unfulfilled dreams and unrequited longings. In these boxes small enough to be held in the arms, he created worlds with the potential to expand into universes, limited only by the fantasies and imaginations of those who gazed into them. They are the worlds that we all hold deep within us. The boxes of Cornell remind us of the rich and mellow sweetness of those worlds.

As a great admirer of Cornell’s art, Mutuo Takahashi wrote a poem in 1993 titled “This World, or the Man of the Boxes” in praise of this rare artist. Now, he presents 16 new verses, one each for the seven Cornell boxes and nine collages from the Kawamura collection in this exhibition. These verses, composed of words in the same subtle manner as Cornell’s creations, are sure to shine fresh light on the small but boundless worlds of the works.

In this collaboration of an artist and a poet who lived in the different times and different spaces of 20th-century America and contemporary Japan, each creating their own distinctive microcosms, is certain to bring us a fresh new insights into the world of Joseph Cornell.

Untitled (Hotel Etoile)
ca. 1956,glass-paned, stained wood box
with sun face (cutout brass can),
metal rod, metal ring, chain, nails, small balls, etc.

ca. 1930
collage on paperboard


1.Joseph Cornell and Mutuo Takahashi

Born in the suburbs of New York in 1903, Joseph Cornell was raised in an affluent home but would see his life change drastically with the sudden death of his father. In order to support his now fatherless family, Cornell had to quit school and go to work as a salesman in a fabric wholesale company at the young age of 17. The one consolation in that work-a-day life was browsing at the antique shops and record shops that he passed in his rounds on the streets of Manhattan, or going to the theater or galleries. He fell in love with the ballet and opera, art and music of 19th-century Europe and began collecting records and books relating to them. Collecting may have been a form of escape from the harsh realities of his life, as well as a subliminal attempt to reclaim the lost happiness of his youth.

Absorbing as he did in this way the culture of metropolitan New York, Cornell would have a life-changing experience in 1931 at the age of 27, when he first encountered the work of Max Ernst. The encounter motivated him to begin creating his own collages and small objet works using pillboxes and the like. Within five years, Cornell was creating works consisting of handmade wooden boxes that he filled with objects he fancied. In the 1940s and ’50s he went on to create series of these box works one after another known as “Soap Bubble Set,” “Romantic Ballet,” “Aviary” and “Hotel.” We also know that he created boxes dedicated to the nostalgic prima donnas and singers of the past, as well as famous actresses of his day like Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn and Marylyn Monroe. In the 1960s, Cornell concentrated on creating collages until his death in 1972 at the age of 69. Despite the wealth of fascinating works he left behind, Cornell is said to have disliked being called an artist. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that his many works in museum collections around the world continued to be loved by a large popular audience.

Mutuo Takahashi was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1937, not long after Cornell began creating his boxes in his 30s. Showing a love of literature and a talent for writing at an early age, Takahashi published his first book of poems while still a student at Fukuoka Gakugei University (present Fukuoka University ofEducation). After moving to Tokyo, he continued writing poetry while working as a copywriter and in 1964 published the poetry collection “Rose Bush, Imitation Lovers”, which drew the acclaim of such figures as Yukio Mishima in the literary world at the time. Since then, he has continued to write poetry while also writing in all types of traditional Japanese literary forms, including haiku and tanka poetry and writing new works for Noh and Kabuki theatre and Joruri storytelling. He has also written scripts for theater director Yukio Ninagawa’s productions of “Medea” and “Oedipus Rex” and the creative opera ”Opera Hasegawa Tsunenaga ‘Toi Ho’”. The excellence of these efforts was recognized in 2000 when Takahashi was awarded the Shijuho Medallion of Honor.

Takahashi first encountered the works of Joseph Cornell in 1978 at the exhibition “Seven Boxes by Joseph Cornell” (Gatodo Gallery), which are turned to be the same seven boxes in this Kawamura exhibition. Prior to that, he had been attracted to the work of Cornell through the catalog of a Cornell retrospective exhibition he found at the Guggenheim Museum while visiting New York in 1971 on a reporting job for a magazine. Recalling that first encounter, Takahashi says, “I felt he was a man of nostalgia”.

2. Looking at Art with a Poem as Our Guide

In fact, this is not the first exhibition based on a collaboration of Cornell’s work with poetry. For the exhibition in 1978, Shuzo Takiguchi wrote poems, and in 1992, a Japanese translation of the American poet Charles Simic’s book Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell was published. What’s more the poem ‘This World, or the Man of the Boxes’ by Takahashi mentioned earlier was also born as a result of the 1993 exhibition “Joseph Cornell” at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art. As we can assume from the fact that Cornell even called himself a disciple of Emily Dickinson, there is undoubtedly a long and mysterious connection between Cornell’s art and poetry.

When we look at the elements and materials Cornell used in his works one by one, we find nothing but common everyday things of little notice. However, when brought together by Cornell’s hand in these boxes, as if by magic they create romantic, compelling worlds. That magic is much the same as the magic that a poet weaves when the right combination of words produces images of unexpected richness. We hope that the poems of Mutuo Takahashi will serve as keys to unlock new appreciation of the art of Joseph Cornell that is deeper in some ways than the usual explanations that art historians offer.

Untitled (Le Piano)
ca. 1947-48, wood cabinet papered with musical scores,
containing small boxes, blue plate glass,
music box, angel statuette, etc.

3. A Space Lit with Starlight

To add another aspect to this exhibition’s collaboration of art and poetry and hopefully enrich the experience, one of the galleries has been turned into a special exhibition space that creates the atmosphere of a starlit sky. Cornell’s works appear out of darkness. This is a chance to experience them as microcosms surrounded by countless stars.

Exhibition room model
Designed by Jun Hanzawa, Photo by Osamu Watanabe

Exhibition List Download(PDF:71KB)

Home, Poor Heart… (Hölderlin)
early 1960s,
cutouts, paper
and paint on Masonite

★Meeting place for all programs is the Entrance Hall. No reservation required, Museum entrance fee is sufficient for participation. All programs held in Japanese only.

Mutuo Takahashi Poetry Reading “Joseph Cornell: Intimate Worlds Enclosed”

April 17    14:00-15:00

A reading by the poet of newly composed poems dedicated to Cornell and discussion of the appeal of his art


April 10 , June 27    14:00-15:00


Every day except April 10, April 17, June 27    14:00-15:00

May include only collection explanations when the Museum is crowded


Listen to poetry read by the poet, Mutuo Takahashi, a guided tour of the exhibition and explanations of the works.
Also contains explanations of the Museum Collection

  • Rental fee: 500 yen per headset

Untitled (Parrot and Butterfly Habitat) ca. 1948,
glass-paned wood box with chromolithographic cutouts,
butterfly specimen, mesh, plate glass, insect net, etc.

A new book containing the 16 Cornell works in the Kawamura collection, 16 new poems from Mutuo Takahashi’s poetry collection ‘This World, or the Man of the Boxes’ and essays on Cornell’s art will be on sale in the Museum Shop.

Joseph Cornell: Intimate Worlds Enclosed
Publisher: Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
128 pages, uncut 16-page binding, letterpress printing
Bilingual Japanese/English
2,300yen (tax included)
★Original-designed paper knives will also be sold for personal opening of the uncut pages.

click to enlarge

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[Group rate over 20 persons (following price is for one person)]

Students & Seniors over 65 with ID
Elementary, middle and high school students

[Persons with disability pass (+ one attendant each)]

Students & Seniors over 65 with ID
Elementary, middle and high school students
  • - For students and seniors over 65, discounts require identification such as a Student ID or Health Insurance Certificate.
  • - Students=college, vocational and preparatory school students
  • - Art Education Support Program is available for teachers so they can provide an interactive gallery talk with their students. (¥3500 per class / in Japanese only)
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