One of the most important American artists of the 20th century, Joseph Cornell (1903-72), was a pioneer and celebrated exponent of assemblage and collage art. The mysterious little worlds Cornell created through his shadow boxes have influenced everyone from Andy Warhol to contemporary installation artists.
A Fortuitous Meeting
Joe Erdman (Col ’56) and Richard Ader were partners in a New York City law firm when the artist walked into their offices one day in the late 1960s. Ader helped Cornell draft his will and, after Cornell died at the age of 68, Erdman worked on various legal arrangements for his estate. To this day, Erdman and Ader continue to serve as co-trustees of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, named for the artist and his brother. The foundation has become the foremost contributor to a variety of UVA arts programs.
An Ongoing Relationship
In addition to a $250,000 gift to the College of Arts & Sciences for faculty support, the foundation gave $750,000 to UVA’s Fralin Museum of Art, to be used at the discretion of the museum’s director, Bruce Boucher.
“The impact of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation upon the museum has been transformative,” said Boucher. “Not only have their gifts of art profoundly strengthened our collection, but their financial investment has enabled us to develop and expand our exhibitions and other programming that serve children, students and adults throughout our region. For this, we are profoundly grateful.”
In total, the Cornell Foundation has given more than $7 million to the museum over the years, which includes several works of Cornell’s art. Since the early 2000s, the foundation has played a vital role in ensuring the emergence and ongoing development of the arts at UVA. After initially donating several of the artist’s boxes, and then establishing an endowed fund at The Fralin to provide support for a wide range of exhibitions and educational programs, the relationship between the foundation and UVA has deepened over the past decade and its philanthropy has expanded to other areas in the arts.
Jefferson’s Museum Today—and Tomorrow
Thomas Jefferson’s vision included a notable museum that would enhance the University’s prestige and value as an institution of higher learning. In large part due to the legacy of the Cornell Foundation, The Fralin is making strides toward this goal, with talented scholars and staff presenting exhibitions that have garnered international acclaim, while engaging more students than ever. The growth and increased popularity of the museum have led to plans for a 16,340 square foot addition onto the existing Thomas H. Bayly Building.
Erdman strongly believes that the arts should be a critical component of the student experience at UVA, and his support has paved the way for the arts to advance significantly at UVA over the past several years. “UVA continues to elevate the arts to its rightful place at Mr. Jefferson’s University,” Erdman said. “Who else would have been more pleased to see the growth of the arts at UVA than the founder of the University himself?”