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Spirit Level

Joseph Cornell began making box assemblages in 1936. These works—composed largely of found objects—often combine elements from fine art, popular culture, science, and the natural world. Cornell repeatedly used the same types of objects in boxes made throughout his career, developing a highly personal iconography. Spirit Level reflects his interest in astronomy and celestial navigation: a yellow cork ball placed before an astronomical map appears as a sun or planet, while the yellow marbles in the cordial glasses symbolize small planets or stars. On the floor of the box, the starfish, driftwood, and sand evoke the moon’s dominance over the ocean’s tides.

Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972
Spirit Level
1969
Mixed media
8 7/8 x 14 15/16 x 3 ¼ in. (22.5 x 37.9 x 8.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 70.54

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