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The Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts explores the life’s work of a New York-based eccentric who rarely left his home state but travelled widely in his mind. In later life, once his art had brought him success, he was offered the chance to visit Europe but declined, on the basis that he would lose the state of yearning that had helped him to produce the thoughtful, delicate works that he put together in the basement of the house he shared with his mother and brother.

The exhibition encompasses the works he created over a decades-long career. He collected photos, archives and other bits and bobs and used them to make collages and boxes, many built around particular themes. Tiny drawings and maps, place names, cutout pictures, and delicate pieces of wood and fabric are all used in his works. Some of my favourites included the box of parrots and the case in which a picture of a Victorian girl floats into the air, attached to an unseen balloon by tiny strings. The works have the air of cabinets of curiosities; they reflect Cornell’s wide interests (space, travel, history, stories of all kinds) and each one is unique.

This art is unlike any I’ve seen before, and I’m glad I made the effort to go and see the exhibition before it closed.

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