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A mixed media sculpture.

The parts of the sculpture are contained in a black framed, rectangular, three-sided box. Small squared wire mesh, painted white, frames the top and left edges. A white round column extends from top to bottom on the right. The back is white with a cracked surface with an inset black rectangle on the left side. A portion of the constellation of Pegasus is in the upper right corner.

Gallery Text

Like the surrealist montages of Max Ernst and the readymades of Marcel Duchamp (manufactured objects presented as art), Joseph Cornell’s unique box constructions juxtapose recognizable but unrelated objects. The objects retain their individual meaning while transforming the composition into a fusion of mysterious, unsettling associations. Linked with surrealism and inspired by cubist collage, Cornell was perhaps most influenced by his experience of life in New York. Midnight Carrousel references a number of his passions: the winter night sky, the starry ceilings of Grand Central Terminal, a Victorian-era carrousel in Central Park, and engraved charts of the constellations. Cornell’s box engages time, space, and motion, connecting the centrifugal movement of a childhood ride with the stars that spin above, and offering an escape into the celestial realm while acknowledging the dawn of the atomic age. His allusions to the metaphysics of time, and the rough-worked surfaces of the box’s frame, express a nostalgia that is evocative yet impenetrable.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Joseph Cornell, American (Nyack, NY 1903 - 1972 New York, NY)
Midnight Carrousel
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Winter Night Sky
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1310, Modern and Contemporary Art, Surrealism
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Physical Descriptions

Assemblage, mixed media
35.56 x 27.94 x 16.51 cm (14 x 11 x 6 1/2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Lois Orswell, from the artist?, Gift to Harvard University Art Museums, 1996.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Lois Orswell
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Marjorie B. Cohn and Sarah Kianovsky, Lois Orswell, David Smith, and Modern Art, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 23, fig. 66, pp. 133-134, 312, 375

Exhibition History

  • Annual Exhibition: Paintings, Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 01/12/1955 - 02/20/1955
  • [Benefit exhibition for the Boston Arts Festival], Margaret Brown Gallery, Boston, 05/08/1956 - 05/29/1956
  • Lois Orswell, David Smith, and Modern Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/21/2002 - 02/16/2003
  • Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, 04/28/2007 - 08/19/2007
  • 32Q: 1310 Surrealism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Verification Level

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