Recently Discovered Joseph Cornell Film Premieres

Untitled Joseph Cornell Film (The Wool Collage). c. 1940–55. USA. Directed by Joseph Cornell. Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

Untitled Joseph Cornell Film (The Wool Collage), is about to make its world premiere, 42 years after the artist’s death. The film will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 1, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in whose archives it was recently uncovered. MoMA holds an extensive collection of Cornell’s experimental films, which were donated to the museum in 1995 by the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. The newly discovered work came to light during an extensive research project at the museum in 2011 that was conceived by Anne Morra, MoMA’s associate curator of film.

As part of the research endeavor, every can of film was hand-inspected and catalogued. One canister, identified only as Collage Fragments in the museum’s inventory, contained a single 16 mm reel; MoMA’s film conservation manager Peter Williamson discovered it.

The reel of film runs a total of 804 feet with 681.5 feet of image; 27, 260 frames of image, with 15 sections divided by black leader.

The contents consist mostly of found footage, similar to the repurposed imagery favored by Cornell in his other films. Edited with Cornell’s distinctive splicing tape, the 23-minute film was composed by the artist sometime between 1940 and 1955. New 16mm prints and a polyester negative were made, and the film was renamed Untitled Joseph Cornell Film (The Wool Collage).


Also on Saturday’s MoMA program is a screening of the newly restored Perfect Film (1985, 21 min.) by Cornell’s studio assistant in the 1950s, Ken Jacobs. Like Cornell’s work’s, Perfect Film also features found footage, in this case, interviews with eyewitnesses to the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965.

Separately, the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, announced yesterday that it has acquired a cache of unpublished letters from Cornell to Susanna De Maria Wilson, wife of Walter De Maria and one of the artist’s early assistants. The letters, which date from 1963–68, feature philosophical and poetic musings, social notes and information about materials used for Cornell’s collages.

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