Untitled (Hôtel de l’Étoile ),Joseph Cornel

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903 - 1972) 

Untitled (Hôtel de l’Étoile ), c. 1954 

Mixed-media box assemblage 

Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, 2002 (TCM.2002.49.03) 

Joseph Cornell lived for most of his life in a small, house on Utopia Parkway in Flushing, New York, along with his mother and his physically-challenged brother. 

One of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage, the careful fitting together of unrelated found objects and other materials to create something new, Cornell became best known for his glass-fronted shadow box constructions. 

By the 1950s, the boxes became increasingly simplified, as seen in the austere Hôtel de l’Étoile (“Hotel of the Star”), from Cornell’s series in which he evoked the luxurious grand hotels of la belle époque. Although Cornell never traveled abroad (he called himself an “armchair voyager”), his boxes allowed him to visit exotic hotels in his imagination. An image of the constellation Andromeda, from Johannes Hevelius' 1690 engraving, is the dominant feature and is reflected in mirrors lining the left and right interior walls. 

In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of Cepheus, King of Ethiopia, and his wife, Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia boasts that Andromeda is more beautiful than the sea nymphs, the Nereids, Poseidon, god of the sea, sends a sea monster to ravage the kingdom as divine punishment. Andromeda is offered in sacrifice and chained to a rock at the sea’s edge but is saved by the demi-god Perseus, and the two marry. Years later after they die, Andromeda and Perseus are cast into the heavens along with his winged horse Pegasus and her parents, Cepheus and Cassiopeia, to become celestial constellations.