Philadelphia Museum of Art · October 8, 1998 - January 3, 1999
Other Voices, n.1., v.2 (September 1998).
Copyright © 1998 Other Voices, all right reserved; Text, images and On-line presentation © 1998 Philadelphia Museum of Art created by Zero Defect Design
The expatriate Frenchman Marcel Duchamp met the American artist Joseph Cornell in New York in the early 1930s. In the early 1940s Duchamp engaged Cornell to assist him in assembling the deluxe editions of Duchamp's new project, the miniature "museum" of his work, commonly referred to as the Boîte-en-valise. At this time Cornell also began to formally assemble his Duchamp Dossier, a work that contains 118 items ranging from Mona Lisa postcards, dry-cleaning receipts, and correspondence, to Boîte-en-valise fragments, readymades, and a study by Duchamp for his Allégorie de Genre. Cornell's Duchamp Dossier thus provides a particularly rich source of insight into both artists' creative lives during several crucial decades.
The Duchamp Dossier (c. 1942-53) was discovered in Cornell's studio shortly after his death in 1972. Unlike many of his other dossiers, this one was never shown publicly and remained unpublished in Cornell's lifetime. Cornell compiled most of the material for the Dossier during the years 1942 to 1946, although it includes some items from the 1930s and 1950s.
Many items in the Dossier document Cornell's work in assisting in the assembly of Duchamp's Box-in-Valise: Duchamp's written requests for more Boxes, and an improvised receipt based on the cover of a Long Island Railroad conductor's booklet. Individual elements of Duchamp's Box-in-Valise -- the reproductions of his early paintings, for example -- can also be found in the Duchamp Dossier.
Cornell was an avid correspondent, and the Dossier derives much of its flavor from the postal system -- stamps, telegrams, postcards. We find several communications from Duchamp, a note from the art dealer Julien Levy, and remnants of envelopes bearing intriguing return addresses such as that of the artist Piet Mondrian. A group of nine letters from Mary Reynolds, Duchamp's longtime companion, reveals her own close friendship with Cornell and her delight in the works of art that Cornell sold and gave to her. With typical brevity, Duchamp relied on a postcard to inform Cornell of his imminent departure from New York at the end of the war: "Au revoir / affecteusement / Marcel."