Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell


No artist ever led a stranger life than Joseph Cornell, the self-taught American genius prized for his disquieting shadow boxes, who stands at the intersection of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. Legends about Cornell abound--as the shy hermit, the devoted family caretaker, the artistic innocent--but never before Utopia Parkway has he been presented for what he was: a brilliant, relentlessly serious artist whose stature has now reached monumental proportions. Cornell was haunted by dreams and ...
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Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell

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No artist ever led a stranger life than Joseph Cornell, the self-taught American genius prized for his disquieting shadow boxes, who stands at the intersection of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. Legends about Cornell abound--as the shy hermit, the devoted family caretaker, the artistic innocent--but never before Utopia Parkway has he been presented for what he was: a brilliant, relentlessly serious artist whose stature has now reached monumental proportions. Cornell was haunted by dreams and visions, yet the site of his imaginings couldn't have been more ordinary: a small house he shared with his mother and invalid brother in Queens, New York. In its cluttered basement, he spent his nights arranging photographs, cut-outs and other humble disjecta into some of the most romantic works to exist in three dimensions. Cornell was no recluse, however: admired by successive generations of vanguard artists, he formed friendships with figures as diverse as Duchamp, de Kooning, and Warhol and had romantically charged encounters with Susan Sontag and Yoko Ono--not to mention unrequited crushes on countless shop girls and waitresses. All this he recorded compulsively in a diary that, along with his shadow boxes, forms one of the oddest and most affecting records ever made of a life. It is from such documents, and from a decade of sustained attention to Cornell, that Deborah Solomon has fashioned the definitive biography of one of America's most powerful and unusual modern artists.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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. Mar.
Anne Truitt
Deborah Solomon brings to [Cornell's] life a lucid intelligence, an incisive knowledge of art history and a rare sensibility. Her generous understanding illuminates Cornell as a knight errant of art. --The Washington Post Book World
Donna Seaman
As perfectly composed, richly nuanced and quietly surprising as one of Cornell's boxes. --Chicago Tribune
James R. Mellow
...[A] thoroughly detailed, highly informative biography. -- The New York Times Book Review
Farrar Straus & Giroux Incorporated

ALA Book of the Year

New York Times Notable Book of the Year

New York Public Library Book to Remember
Kirkus Reviews
Joseph Cornell, an American artist most famous for his quirky shadow boxes, is astutely revealed by Wall Street Journal art critic Solomon as a shy, complex figure—even more enigmatic than his art.

Cornell's shadow boxes and collages played on juxtapositions of common objects—pictures of ballerinas and movie stars (his Marilyn Monroe file predated Andy Warhol's), bits of costumes, pennies, feathers. Understanding his work requires making connections among these odd bits. Solomon (Jackson Pollock, 1987) likewise sifts through the seemingly disconnected minutiae of the artist's life and pieces together a convincing portrait of the man and his work. It's been hard to label Cornell: His genre-bending art has been linked with Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and eventually Pop Art. Cornell's life, spent in New York City, similarly defies classification, providing none of the usual seedy grist available to biographers of famous artists. He was for most of his life a virgin. He catered to the whims of his overbearing mother and cared for his sickly brother in their small house on Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. His pleasures were small—sifting through trinkets in five-and-dime stores for objects to use in his art, riding the old Third Street El, and consuming an alarming amount of sugar. Cornell's diary, a hodgepodge of 40 years' worth of notes, includes catalogs of sweets the artist ate and annotations on the many infatuations he developed—from the great 19th-century ballerina Fanny Cerrito to a down-on-her-luck waitress. Cornell, ever the observer, was socially awkward: A movie clerk once mistook his hastily offered flowers for a gun and called the police.

Solomon intertwines a secret, small life with the great artistic movements of the century and tells a story that will intrigue even those who know nothing of the artist's work.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878466849
  • Publisher: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/15/2004
  • Pages: 426
  • Sales rank: 415,289
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Solomon is a New York-based art critic who writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among other publications. She is the author of Jackson Pollock: A Biography.
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Table of Contents

Preface xi
1 "Combination Ticket Entitles Bearer To ...": 1903-17 3
2 Dreaming of Houdini: 1917-21 21
3 Life of a Salesman: 1921-28 32
4 The Julien Levy Gallery: 1929-32 50
5 The Persistent Memory of Salvador Dali: 1933-36 69
6 Introducing the Neo-Romantics: 1937-39 90
7 A Night at the Ballet: 1940-41 108
8 Voices from Abroad: 1942 128
9 Bebe Marie, or Visual Possession: 1943-44 147
10 The Hugo Gallery: 1945-49 167
11 The Aviaries: 1949 184
12 The Egan Years: 1950-53 203
13 The Birds: 1954-55 222
14 The Stable Gallery: 1956-57 235
15 Breakfast at Bickford's: 1958-59 251
16 Pop Goes the Art World: 1960-63 268
17 The Life and Death of Joyce Hunter: 1964 285
18 Goodbye, Robert: 1965 300
19 Goodbye, Mrs. Cornell: 1966 320
20 The Guggenheim Show: 1967 329
21 "Bathrobe Journeying": 1968-71 342
22 "Sunshine Breaking Through ...": 1972 364
Acknowledgments 375
Notes 379
Index 413
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