From a basement in New York, the artist produced some of the most original art of the 20th century

Joseph Cornell only ever travelled in his imagination. He spent his entire life living with his mother in Queens and rarely ventured further than the city limits, instead preferring to construct his own fantastical worlds filled with exotic creatures, cosmic skies and antiquated paraphernalia.

As an untrained artist he has often been considered an outsider of the New York scene, but was actually incredibly active, exhibiting with the Surrealists at MoMA and forging relationships with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Dorothea Tanning and Yayoi Kusama. Cornell blurred the boundaries of poetry, collage, engraving and assemblage to create curious tableaus inside wooden boxes that he either found or constructed.

It is these ‘shadow boxes’ that form the core of the RA’s exhibition, including the fanciful Tilly Losch, (named after the Viennese ballet dancer) which depicts a young woman in period costume playing with a red ball, as she soars high above a vast mountain range.

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