Dean Conley gave an invited presentation on "Collecting Ghostly Things: Cornell, Breton, Surrealism" at the Joseph Cornell and Surrealism Symposium, held April 3, 2014, at the University of Virginia. The event was sponsored by the university's Fralin Museum of Art in conjunction with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Her paper explored the love of collecting ghostly things – things with previous lives, previous purposes – shared by Joseph Cornell and André Breton. Each had a lifelong fascination with collecting, out of which they created poetic worlds outside of themselves that reflected their imaginative inner worlds.
Breton's collection was found in his study in Paris in an evolving creation that is now memorialized at the Pompidou Center as Breton's Wall. Cornell created multiple collections in comparatively microscopic versions contained within boxes.
Both of these collections are joined by shared and individual interpretations of the principles of surrealism, a movement codified by Breton in the "Manifestoes" that became for Cornell a "revelation world" that contributed to his understanding of his own work. A study of the unifying role played by the practice of collecting shows the surrealist commonalities shared by these two artists.