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Souvenirs: Cornell Duchamp Johns Rauschenberg

I recall so easily an esp. cherished . . . first brief meeting (as a stranger), the piquant flavor of contact with a unique personality.
                                                                                                                       Cornell on the first time he met Duchamp [1]

One thing that keeps popping up is the comparison with my work and Cornell’s. A big difference in our attitudes is that I dragged ordinary materials into the art world for a direct confrontation, and I felt Cornell incorporated highly select materials to celebrate their rarefication, often protecting their existence with as many as four to six sheets of glass. I love his work but I think we lived in different worlds.
                                                                                                                       Rauschenberg on Cornell’s boxes [2]

Ah, yes, it’s playing my tune.
                                                                                                                       Duchamp on Rauschenberg’s Music Box [3]

He said that he was ahead of his time. One guesses at a certain loneliness there. Wittgenstein said that “’Time has only one direction” must be a piece of nonsense.”
                                                                                                                       Johns on Duchamp after his death [4]

To lose the possibility of identifying/recognizing 2 similar objects—2 colors, 2 laces, 2 hats, 2 forms whatsoever to reach the Impossibility of sufficient visual memory, to transfer from one like object to another the memory imprint.
                                                                                                                       Duchamp, note from the Green Box [5]

Souvenirs: Cornell Duchamp Johns Rauschenberg brings together four artistic giants of the twentieth, and even twenty first, centuries. Johns continues working today, while the effect, influence, and presence of Cornell, Duchamp, and Rauschenberg remain pervasive, even in their now lengthy absence. While the personal and artistic relationship between Johns and Rauschenberg is well known, as is their mutual admiration for, and friendship with, Duchamp, the connection between Cornell and Duchamp is somewhat less recognized. The two met in New York in 1933 and established their friendship through letters, postcards, lunches, visits, gallery encounters, and exchanges of gifts. Cornell even worked with Duchamp on the assembly of some of Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, Series B (1942–54). The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Menil Collection examined their relationship in the exhibition Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp . . . in resonance (October 8, 1998 to January 3, 1999). Six years later, the Dallas Museum of Art expanded it with the exhibition Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg (September 4, 2005 to January 8, 2006). More recently, the Philadelphia Museum of Art further enlarged and enhanced this scholarship with Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp (October 30, 2012 to January 21, 2013). These enlightening exhibitions and their accompanying publications investigated the multiplicity and complexity of the exchanges among these four artists in a critical examination of their knowledge of and interaction with one another’s work—how they adopted and contested different aspects and issues, thereby sharing and establishing a common language that became essential to modern and postmodern discourse.

Souvenirs follows in the footsteps of these important, and encyclopedic, exhibitions by presenting just six works shown together in one room.  Focusing on the theme, process, and function of the souvenir, the show puts these carefully selected works into close correspondence.

A souvenir, as memento and remembrance, preserves, but it also marks that which is lost or absent; and it does so, both together, neither, and either/or, in an operation of delay. Like collage, where an image is taken from one context and placed into another while still retaining traces of its previous identity and function (which remains more or less apparent), a souvenir is neither fully arrived nor completely departed in/from either context. Like the shifting figures of the duck/rabbit, the vessel/profiles of the Silver Jubilee vase (itself a souvenir), and the my wife/my mother-in-law illustration—all present in Johns’s drawing Spring (1986)—the souvenir is in perpetual oscillation.

The reproduction of Bronzino’s Portrait of Bia de’ Medici (c. 1542) at the heart of Cornell’s Untitled (Medici Princess) (1948) has a life of its own, like the painting, but it is, of course, not the painting. Like the painting itself, its reproduction too is a souvenir, a memento mori, of the young princess. Bia will live here and in Bronzino’s painting (and in reproductions everywhere) as an exquisite image, in perpetuity. Yet it is an image haunted by her death, premature, at approximately the age of six—a fact surely not lost on Cornell, whose father died when he was fourteen. Bia is echoed in the center of Spring by Johns’s own traced shadow, as well as by the shadow of his young godson below, who was three years old at the time. Both absence and presence haunt the suggested missing figure within Rauschenberg’s Rhyme, signified by an actual necktie hanging from the canvas. Duchamp too is nowhere and everywhere present within his Boîte-en-valise, the absent artist’s authorship unifying all the carefully crafted and displayed reproductions. All these souvenirs blur the boundaries between the unique art object and the copy, between the specific and the multiple, between the supposed original and its mechanical, or mostly mechanical, or somewhat mechanical, reproduction. They become hard to define and/or distinguish – transitional states—humorous, joyful, poignant, melancholic, enshrining, and entombing.

A souvenir is also a memory, an act of remembering, memory itself—a highly selective process and a structuring that is inherently incomplete. To survive, to perpetuate itself, memory must simplify and filter, and so become a refined but fragmentary, and faulty, residue—an imperfect “memory imprint.”  Memory is something that is consciously activated—a recollection, recalled by the subject/artist/viewer. But it is also something that just comes to mind, that comes up, that comes from below. The traditional authoritarian conceit that the artist conveys a predetermined expression or message to the viewer is here, in this room, with these works, paused—making way for the viewer’s ideas, perceptions, and interpretations to be the expression or message. The viewer becomes an active participant, “delay included.” [6]

1 Joseph Cornell, draft of condolence letter to Alexina Duchamp, October 9, 1968, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, microfilm, 1056:679-681.

2 Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in Walter Hopps, “Introduction: Rauschenberg’s Art of Fusion,” in Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson, eds., Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1997), p. 29, n.12.

3 Marcel Duchamp, reported in Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s, exh. cat. (Houston: Menil Foundation, 1991), p. 24.  Duchamp is said to have made the remark, referring to his own assisted readymade With Hidden Noise (1916), after seeing Rauschenberg’s Music Box (Elemental Sculpture) (c. 1953) at the Stable Gallery in the 1950s.

4 Jasper Johns, “Passages: Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968),” Artforum 7, no. 3 (November 1968), p. 6.

5 Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even: A Typographic Version by Richard Hamilton of Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box, trans. George Heard Hamilton (Stuttgart: Hansjörg Mayer, 1976).

6 Duchamp, note in Joseph Cornell’s Duchamp Dossier (1942–53), collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Medici Princess), 1948
Wood box construction
17 5/8 x 11 1/8 x 4 3/8 inches
Collection of Agnes Gund

Marcel Duchamp
From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41
Miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by Duchamp contained in a cloth-covered cardboard box enclosed in a valise of leather, imitation leather, or cloth covered wood
First published by Marcel Duchamp, Paris, 1941
Seven series (A-G), dimensions vary
Series B
1941, Paris; 1942-54, New York
60-75 boxes, unnumbered
15 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches, box
Approximately 25-35 enclosed in leather valises
Assembled in New York during the war years by Joseph Cornell, Xenia Cage, Patricia Matta Kane, and others, and in 1952.
Contains 68 items
Private collection

Jasper Johns
Target with Four Faces, 1955
Graphite pencil and pastel on paper
9 1/4 x 7 7/8 inches
Collection of the artist

 

 

Jasper Johns
Spring, 1986
Pastel and charcoal on paper
41 3/4 x 27 7/8 inches
Collection of the artist

Robert Rauschenberg
Untitled [Mona Lisa], c. 1952
Collage: engravings, printed paper, fabric, paper,
pencil, foil paper, and glue on paper
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
Private collection

Robert Rauschenberg
Rhyme, 1956
Combine: oil, fabric, necktie, paper, enamel, pencil,
and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
48 1/4 x 41 1/8 inches
The Museum of Modern Art. Fractional and promised gift of Agnes Gund in honor of Richard E. Oldenburg. Object number 283.1994

 

 

Click image for details

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Medici Princess), 1948
Wood box construction
17 5/8 x 11 1/8 x 4 3/8 inches
Collection of Agnes Gund

Marcel Duchamp
From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41
Miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by Duchamp contained in a cloth-covered cardboard box enclosed in a valise of leather, imitation leather, or cloth covered wood
First published by Marcel Duchamp, Paris, 1941
Seven series (A-G), dimensions vary
Series B
1941, Paris; 1942-54, New York
60-75 boxes, unnumbered
15 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches, box
Approximately 25-35 enclosed in leather valises
Assembled in New York during the war years by Joseph Cornell, Xenia Cage, Patricia Matta Kane, and others, and in 1952.
Contains 68 items
Private collection

Jasper Johns
Target with Four Faces, 1955
Graphite pencil and pastel on paper
9 1/4 x 7 7/8 inches
Collection of the artist

 

 

Jasper Johns
Spring, 1986
Pastel and charcoal on paper
41 3/4 x 27 7/8 inches
Collection of the artist

Robert Rauschenberg
Untitled [Mona Lisa], c. 1952
Collage: engravings, printed paper, fabric, paper,
pencil, foil paper, and glue on paper
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
Private collection

Robert Rauschenberg
Rhyme, 1956
Combine: oil, fabric, necktie, paper, enamel, pencil,
and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
48 1/4 x 41 1/8 inches
The Museum of Modern Art. Fractional and promised gift of Agnes Gund in honor of Richard E. Oldenburg. Object number 283.1994

 

 

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Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41

Duchamp From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy (The Box in a Valise), 1935-41