The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell
Deborah Solomon’s definitive biography of Joseph Cornell, one of America’s most moving and unusual twentieth-century artists, now reissued twenty years later with updated and extensively revised text
Few artists ever led a stranger life than Joseph Cornell, the self-taught American genius prized for his enigmatic shadow boxes, who stands at the intersection of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. Legends about Cornell abound—the shy hermit, the devoted family caretaker, the artistic innocent—but never before has he been presented for what he was: a brilliant, relentlessly serious artist whose stature has now reached monumental proportions.
Wall Street Journal art critic Solomon offers a brilliant portrait of Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who lived with his mother and handicapped brother in Queens, talked to pigeons and seemed determined to keep his art unsold. Wanderlust for him was satisfied by a 10-minute bus ride to Flushing. Despite this circumscribed existence, Cornell's fame spread, and collectors still covet his glass-fronted shadow boxes, in which textiles, mirrors and found objects create haunting little worlds. Now, a quarter-century after his death, this authoritative biography should advance his status as a major figure in American art. It places Cornell in the context of the New York art scene. Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, Charles Egan and Parker Tyler are just a few of the memorable characters who inhabit these pages. With sympathy, intuition and wit, Solomon details Cornell's repressed sexuality, crushes on live women and 19th-century ballerinas, and late-life attempts at erotic experience. For all the pigeon-watching, Cornell's life didn't lack drama. Salvador Dali staged a jealous temper tantrum at a viewing of a Cornell film, and a waitress whom Cornell befriended stole some of the celebrated boxes from his garage and met a violent end. Filmmakers make blockbusters from less.