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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Biography is something I very rarely take up in my reading (I much prefer memoirs, or personal diaries and journals whenever possible), and it's even more rare for me to actually read a biography all the way through, usually opting instead to read chapters or sections specific to my interests. I had fully expected this to be more or less my experience with Utopia Parkway, currently the only biography available on the life of nonconformist artist Joseph Cornell, whose work I have become increasin Biography is something I very rarely take up in my reading (I much prefer memoirs, or personal diaries and journals whenever possible), and it's even more rare for me to actually read a biography all the way through, usually opting instead to read chapters or sections specific to my interests. I had fully expected this to be more or less my experience with Utopia Parkway, currently the only biography available on the life of nonconformist artist Joseph Cornell, whose work I have become increasingly enchanted by over the last few months and have been studying in greater and greater detail. But I quickly became so engrossed in the specifics of Cornell's life that I ended up reading the whole thing, and it's probably the closest I've experienced to a "page turner" in a good while—I could hardly put it down. Deborah Solomon definitely had her work cut out for her by taking on this subject. In the various accounts and analyses of Cornell's work and life I've read so far most seem to struggle with accounting for the complexity of Cornell's utter unconventionality—in some he comes off as a whimsical, almost child-like recluse under the domineering thumb of his "dear Mama," in some he comes off like a marginalized hermit willfully on the fringes of art and society, and yet other descriptions portray him as a creepy voyeur-type whose largely repressed sexual urges drive his work, which attempts to dominate the various female figures he held as his muses. As Solomon proves, Cornell was indeed all of these things, but also many more—all of these characterizations are like individual facets that change shape and color and even disappear with just the slightest change of perspective. Cornell emerges as an endless and endlessly baffling bundle of contradictions, and she does a remarkable job of accounting for many of them, which is often done by her adamance to contextualize both Cornell's life and the art that it inspired within larger social and artistic movements. One review currently on this site found this book "kind of a downer, about a sad and very limited life," a description that rather took me aback, because as we find out through Utopia Parkway, Cornell's life can be described as such in only the most limited of ways—what is remarkable is how rich of a life he seemed capable of creating for himself, largely within the carefully controlled confines of his own home. But frankly, he managed to know just about everyone (from Duchamp to Breton to Toumanova to Sontag to Yoko Ono and just about anybody who's anybody in between). Which is ultimately what proves to be so inspiring: so many life stories of famous people and artists in particular seem to involve extensive travels, glittering parties, intense heartbreaks and ecstasies in equal alternating measure, all of the glamorous, easily romanticized trappings of what many of us like to consider "REAL living." Cornell points to possible alternatives, and how richness of the mind, creativity and great accomplishment can take other forms as well. This probably isn't the ideal place to start one's explorations of Cornell's work (it's much more enriching when one at least has some idea of some of the work Solomon constantly alludes to), but an essential supplement for anybody who's already a fan.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I gave it four stars because I learned a lot and it was pleasant to read. basically, cornell was a weirdo who was extremely constricted by guilt and fear and I feel like if he had lived in iowa, we wouldn't have even heard of him. because he was near new york at the time when he was, he had an entrance into the art world. I guess I had a very different idea of what his boxes were. I thought of them more as sort of memory box assemblages. I mean, I didn't think about them much. I don't know that I gave it four stars because I learned a lot and it was pleasant to read. basically, cornell was a weirdo who was extremely constricted by guilt and fear and I feel like if he had lived in iowa, we wouldn't have even heard of him. because he was near new york at the time when he was, he had an entrance into the art world. I guess I had a very different idea of what his boxes were. I thought of them more as sort of memory box assemblages. I mean, I didn't think about them much. I don't know that I've ever seen one in person. (and apparently that's the only way to properly appreciate them because they don't reproduce well in photographs and you miss things like the inset mirrors). a lot of them were a lot more spare than I imagined them. but good for cornell, ol' kind of creepy impotent ballet-fixated christian scientist mama's boy social misfit cornell, he never learned to draw but he became an influential and important artist. it was definitely worth reading to get that little piece of art history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I've always loved Cornell's work. I knew that he never moved away from home and was very reclusive, but Solomon really put him through the psychological wringer. Her insights seem very probable and the resulting book gave me a clear picture of his intentions and process. At some points I felt like I was standing right next to him in his basement (or kitchen table) as he chose and prepared the items for his boxes. I felt deeply sorry for Cornell because his social awkwardness prevented him from ha I've always loved Cornell's work. I knew that he never moved away from home and was very reclusive, but Solomon really put him through the psychological wringer. Her insights seem very probable and the resulting book gave me a clear picture of his intentions and process. At some points I felt like I was standing right next to him in his basement (or kitchen table) as he chose and prepared the items for his boxes. I felt deeply sorry for Cornell because his social awkwardness prevented him from having a richer exterior life. He hated to part with his works and tried to avoid being an object of interest, although he counted many famous people as admirers. I was sorry he was so in thrall to his mother. And, while he dearly loved his brother, Robert, it was impossible for him to feel he could leave the two of them alone. Consequently, Cornell's life was one of dreams and longing. Perhaps his art couldn't have been as compelling if his life had been any different. I can't imagine reading a more thorough biography about an artist's life and work. It actually made me appreciate Cornell's work more. (This book would be best read along with "Joseph Cornell, Master of Dreams" by Diane Waldman or "Joseph Cornell" edited by Kynaston McShine for their excellent reproductions of his work.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Ruth, if you're interested in plates, this is *not* the book; which doesn't mean the text isn't good, I haven't read it. A captivating book with superb plates is this http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22... July 9, 2011- Utopia Parkway is a deeply moving book that took Deborah Solomon seven years to write and I must say I could have gone on reading it forever. I was apprehensive because of rumors about her writing style being sensationalist and she recently lost her job at the NYTimes after some Ruth, if you're interested in plates, this is *not* the book; which doesn't mean the text isn't good, I haven't read it. A captivating book with superb plates is this http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22... July 9, 2011- Utopia Parkway is a deeply moving book that took Deborah Solomon seven years to write and I must say I could have gone on reading it forever. I was apprehensive because of rumors about her writing style being sensationalist and she recently lost her job at the NYTimes after some criticism from Ira Glass. I read about the situation, and, much as I like Ira Glass, think he had a vested interest in the topic because he has been hired by Showtime and the way Solomon wrote his interview made it seem Glass was critical of the network when he was not. I was introduced to Cornell's work by a friend with whom I worked at the art department at NBC, though I'd probably seen some of his experimental films in high school. I had two excellent art teachers who taught us a lot, unfortunately not about Cornell. One year I participated in an program at the Met where we met different famous artists each Saturday morning for a couple months. Unfortunately Cornell was not one of them. However he did love students and probably would have participated had he been asked and well enough to do so. He was still alive though not in the best health. Peter Guralnick quotes British historian Richard Holmes description of the biographer as "a sort of tramp permanently knocking at the kitchen window and secretly hoping he might be invited in for supper." Solomon's portrait is loving, but, at times, too personal. Who is Solomon to judge someone else's sexuality? But she did. I prefer not to dwell on the sadness and loneliness of Cornell's life but the wonderful legacy he left. He was kind to the blind and handicapped and I think had interesting friends, a lust for knowledge, sense of humor and one of the keenest artistic visions of the 20th century. He was not the recluse people made him out to be. He came to his own defense when deKooning criticized him. He'd visited him dozens of times where dK had not reciprocated once.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ab

    This is arguably THE definitive biography for Joseph Cornell, and since it's publication in 1997, the author has diligently continued to update, add new findings, cut outdated content, for the 2015 edition (which I've just completed). Anyone interested in details of Cornell's life - from the variety of box construction series, galleries and shows, and shifts within his work, to personal details, including the relationships with his mother and brother, Robert, women and those he admired from afar This is arguably THE definitive biography for Joseph Cornell, and since it's publication in 1997, the author has diligently continued to update, add new findings, cut outdated content, for the 2015 edition (which I've just completed). Anyone interested in details of Cornell's life - from the variety of box construction series, galleries and shows, and shifts within his work, to personal details, including the relationships with his mother and brother, Robert, women and those he admired from afar - should read this book. That being said, this is not a book to consume in a couple of sittings. As with any biography full of dense details of a life, heavily researched with interviews with those who knew him, diary excerpts, archival materials consulted, the content takes time to digest. With this time, more layers of detail emerge. Joseph Cornell is not only significant for the work he produced as a self-taught artist (from collage, to assemblage box constructions, to films), or as an artist who transcended art genres (from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art), but as a person who had an ENORMOUS amount of contacts across multiple creative spheres. He consumed poetry, theater, ballet, classical music, literature, French culture, film, science, spirituality ... His thirst for knowledge seemed somehow limitless, and the contents of his home and workshop bear evidence of his extensive collecting of materials related to each of this areas. He spoke often with Tennessee Williams while he delivered collages for the covers of Dance Index magazine in the 1940s (they both loved birds, and had siblings with disabilities). He exchanged letters with Tamara Toumanova (prima ballerina and actress) and Allegra Kent (ballerina); Marianne Moore (Pulitzer Prize winning American poet), and Mina Loy; artists: Lee Bontecou, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, Matta, Hans Namuth, Hans Richter, Mark Rothko, Dorothea Tanning, and countless others. A recluse, he was not. Odd? I guess. Complex? More likely. He seemed to have a desperation to capture the entirety of a moment - the feelings, the angles of the light, the memories sparked by a moment, the connections made to other things within that moment. He wrote his, often disjointed, "diaries" on everything, including napkins, envelopes, paper bags, record store bags, scraps of paper, newspaper clippings, and notebooks. He traveled through time and space, throughout the world, without ever leaving the United States East Coast. His reluctance to 'finish' work by signing it, or selling or showing his work, shows that something wholly personal was an integral piece of everything he made. A catalogue raisonne has never been published for Joseph Cornell - but hopefully it will eventually. The expansiveness of his work, the iterations of each "series", the details of each of his hundreds of collages - are somewhat unknown because of this missing piece. The contents of his basement workshop and garage are currently housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and everyone interested in Cornell should explore these materials - https://americanart.si.edu/research/c...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Trina

    This biography of Cornell was hard for me to get into, but once I did I found it thought-provoking and very affecting, because Cornell's life was so very strange and his work so simple yet mysterious. Deborah Solomon is a knowledgeable art critic and biographer, and she tells Cornell's story with great sympathy. Warning, this book has very low-resolution black and white images, and not very many. After I finished this I read Charles Simic's Dime-Store Alchemy, which is a lovely evocation of Corn This biography of Cornell was hard for me to get into, but once I did I found it thought-provoking and very affecting, because Cornell's life was so very strange and his work so simple yet mysterious. Deborah Solomon is a knowledgeable art critic and biographer, and she tells Cornell's story with great sympathy. Warning, this book has very low-resolution black and white images, and not very many. After I finished this I read Charles Simic's Dime-Store Alchemy, which is a lovely evocation of Cornell. I have always been fascinated by Cornell's work, and I look forward to seeing it again with new eyes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Bloodworth

    Fascinating book about Joseph Cornell. Interesting insight into the New York art world of the fifties and sixties. It is hard to believe that Joseph Cornell received recognition within the art community in his lifetime. Without self promotion, I doubt that that would happen now. Since I find obsessive personalities interesting, I found this book hard to put down.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ali Hammoud

    Utopia Parkway: the Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, could be by far the best biography of an artist I have ever read and that due to a number of reasons. At first hand, Deborah Solomon, an art critic, journalist, and biographer did a marvelous work transcribing the life of Joseph Cornell so close that the reader feels living under his skin. Her writing is so detailed, one would find himself/herself in high anticipation from chapter to another. She has skillfully weaved together facts, anecdote, Utopia Parkway: the Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, could be by far the best biography of an artist I have ever read and that due to a number of reasons. At first hand, Deborah Solomon, an art critic, journalist, and biographer did a marvelous work transcribing the life of Joseph Cornell so close that the reader feels living under his skin. Her writing is so detailed, one would find himself/herself in high anticipation from chapter to another. She has skillfully weaved together facts, anecdote, and conjectures, that is refreshing and ever-more alive and beating ( Notes on each chapters can be found from page 495 to page 536). She writes," (Joseph Cornell) fantasy world was always more alive to him than the world in which he woke up every day and tended to the mundane details of living" - P. 491 (2015 edition). she also writes, " it is hard to think of another American artist who was receptive to so many different art movements or who managed to win the admiration of everyone from the Surrealists in the 1940s to the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s to the pop artists in the 1960s. Artists who agreed on little else agreed on Cornell." Joseph Cornell is an artist of the stellar system who cared less of worldly matters, who lived the past and brought it alive in his shadow boxes, that at first was met with scorn but grew as he evolved to become of something of an art world sensation and brought him fame that alienated him even more than it contained him. He's an artist who, "found his epiphanies in the banal - in marbles and metal springs and other frugal objects, mingling the visionary aims of French symbolism with a literalism that is distinctly American," Solomon writes. Above all, Joseph Cornell was hyper sensitive to how his art work (Shadow boxes) were acquired by art dealers and collectors, that he would get stressed out whenever his art work circulated and sold, which is a rarity at the time and today. He's an artist who favored ordinary people, students, and children over the circle of the art world - that I feel what makes him unique and brings his life experience closer to the common reader who will surely grow interested in seeing his work alive displayed in Museums and private collections. This very reader is among many who followed closely on his work and legacy. There are so much to tell about Joseph Cornell's life and his artwork and obsessive collection of oddities from NYC bookshops and antique stores at the time of his magical creations, and his preoccupation with lost and rare films- a filmmaker in his own good that helmed an avant-garde films that can be found screening at film anthologies in NYC. (Cornell in pictures: http://faculty2.vassar.edu/haroseman/...)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Not quite finished (p. 364) -- Cornell made art out of things he collected, & I am beginning to do the same. We talked about him briefly in April's collage class at LeMoyne Gallery (class ended Sunday). Kurt Schwitters is considered the essential modern collagist, with Cornell right behind. Reading this makes me aware of the definitions (does anybody care?): Collage is two-dimensional pasting & maybe layering of cut-out images, either drawn or found. Decoupage gets three-dimensional, things stic Not quite finished (p. 364) -- Cornell made art out of things he collected, & I am beginning to do the same. We talked about him briefly in April's collage class at LeMoyne Gallery (class ended Sunday). Kurt Schwitters is considered the essential modern collagist, with Cornell right behind. Reading this makes me aware of the definitions (does anybody care?): Collage is two-dimensional pasting & maybe layering of cut-out images, either drawn or found. Decoupage gets three-dimensional, things sticking out from the surface -- like seashells or forks. Assemblage uses things, unaltered. It is related to sculpture but it's not shaped by the artist in the way sculpture is. Assemblage shapes come from the connecting of things. (I'm writing this to clarify for myself.) Cornell made collages & assemblages. He is famous for his boxes with things glued inside. A long time ago I was drawn to Cornell, when I saw pictures of his assemblages. I just liked them. But in my 20's I saw some of his boxes at the Chicago Art Institute. I found them gloomy. Now that I've read Cornell's life, I know why: he had a gloomy, airless personal life. He was in his own box, unable to break through & relate to people. He had an intense family life, boxed into a plain house in Queens with his handicapped brother & smothering mom. (Two sisters escaped through marriage. The father died early.) Cornell sold wool in the city, then quit to spend more time in the basement making things. I identify! But he kept going to New York to attend the Christian Science services & to pick up stuff from sidewalks. Again, I identify! At home in the middle of the night he took a cup of tea to the basement & cut things out & glued them down, juxtaposing the unlikely. After a time he presented them to galleries, & some were shown. He got really famous only after he was 60, shortly after both his mother & brother had died. By then he was annoyed by the demands of fame. Cornell was a Surrealist when they were on top; then an Abstract-Expressionist. Then a Pop artist. All the while he was himself, morphing through his stuff. Now people call him a genius. I like that he wasn't a reckless egomaniac. But he was wrapped up in himself, often depressed & inhospitable ... and maybe just as often elated by the miraculous interconnection of things & the holiness of scraps. 2. Joseph Cornell died - I knew, but still a shock. Dr. said probably a heart attack, no pain. He was lying on the couch in his overcoat, with a blanket pulled up to his chin. It was winter, Dec. 29, 1972. He had just turned 69. Fifty people attended his funeral. Solomon thinks it fitting that his ashes were buried in a small box.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becky Isett

    Joseph Cornell is insane which is why I wanted to read his biography. This biography reads more like a story, relying more on narrative and description than facts like dates and so forth. I'm not big on biographies, but this was really easy to enjoy and gave a lot of information about where his art originated. Joseph Cornell is insane which is why I wanted to read his biography. This biography reads more like a story, relying more on narrative and description than facts like dates and so forth. I'm not big on biographies, but this was really easy to enjoy and gave a lot of information about where his art originated.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I enjoyed this bio very much. I've had the opportunity to see much of Cornell's work in various museum shows, and so I was happy to discover the "back story" of this artist and his somewhat insular world of Utopia Parkway. I enjoyed this bio very much. I've had the opportunity to see much of Cornell's work in various museum shows, and so I was happy to discover the "back story" of this artist and his somewhat insular world of Utopia Parkway.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I saw this in the bookstore at the Orange Co Museum of Art today. Definitely something I want, as soon as I gear up to the $65 price tag.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris Browning

    On many levels this is a frustrating book, probably not helped by being read next to the Tomkins’ Duchamp biography. Where that manages to weave the stories of Duchamp and his art deftly around the other people in his life, Solomon sometimes really struggles. The Duchamp sections exemplify this frustration, where she calls him that “poker faced prankster”, talks about his “anti art antics” and his “absurd machines” which either suggest she’s never done any actual reading on him or has never mana On many levels this is a frustrating book, probably not helped by being read next to the Tomkins’ Duchamp biography. Where that manages to weave the stories of Duchamp and his art deftly around the other people in his life, Solomon sometimes really struggles. The Duchamp sections exemplify this frustration, where she calls him that “poker faced prankster”, talks about his “anti art antics” and his “absurd machines” which either suggest she’s never done any actual reading on him or has never managed to grasp what the artist was trying to do. Several times, Solomon almost stumbles across a really brilliant idea but manages to completely miss it But having said that, Cornell must be one hell of a difficult artist to write about. His artistic essence feels like ephemeral on the page, the man himself like a ghost slowly fading out of his own life. In the last decade - which Solomon deals with beautifully - all the obsessions and fascinations take on an almost morbid inevitability as they slowly destroy him. The last few chapters are devastating, as bleak a portrait of a man depressed by his inability to fully express himself other than in his strange, wispy creations. Kudos goes to not trying to do cheap psychoanalysis on Cornell too - he very obviously was somewhere on the autistic spectrum but cheap goes at trying to define this would just damage the book’s flow Finally, what surprised me most of all was how much Cornell feels like the minor chord shadow of the life of Edward Gorey. Both eccentric, both longing for a past they never knew, obsessed with ballet, inveterate readers and hoarders and in their own way innovators who created a new genre to express their lives in. It’s just that Gorey had an exterior world and Cornell’s was obsessively interior. It’s as if the collages are him raking over his past and the boxes are expressions of the prison of his own horribly confused emotions, a box that in the end destroyed him

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Burris

    This was an excellent biography of Joseph Cornell without interjecting too much personal opinion or interpretation from the author. (Any opinion is clearly stated as such.) Most art books about Joseph Cornell try to interject a guess at the meanings behind his work and mask it as fact. As an artist, I find this infuriating. Utopia Parkway tells the reader the facts - the important moments in his life, the shares evidence of his obsessions and collections, the documentation of happenings in his da This was an excellent biography of Joseph Cornell without interjecting too much personal opinion or interpretation from the author. (Any opinion is clearly stated as such.) Most art books about Joseph Cornell try to interject a guess at the meanings behind his work and mask it as fact. As an artist, I find this infuriating. Utopia Parkway tells the reader the facts - the important moments in his life, the shares evidence of his obsessions and collections, the documentation of happenings in his day to day - and lets the reader come to their own interpretations based on the data surrounding him at the time. This book allowed me to develop a deep appreciation of Joseph Cornell the person and artist.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Haerens

    To convey the full measure of the life of Joseph Cornell must be a true challenge. Cornell, a great artist beset by emotional and social issues, led a guarded, spartan existence with few true human connections. His emotional immaturity inspired his creepy preoccupation with young women and stopped him from pursuing healthy sexual and romantic connections. Instead, much of his energy, intellect, and ardor was funneled into his extensive collections and imaginative artwork. Somehow, Solomon is abl To convey the full measure of the life of Joseph Cornell must be a true challenge. Cornell, a great artist beset by emotional and social issues, led a guarded, spartan existence with few true human connections. His emotional immaturity inspired his creepy preoccupation with young women and stopped him from pursuing healthy sexual and romantic connections. Instead, much of his energy, intellect, and ardor was funneled into his extensive collections and imaginative artwork. Somehow, Solomon is able to acknowledge Cornell's unusual predilections and unhealthy social and familial situations while still conveying the artist's appeal and his artistic achievement.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Penny lurkykitty

    A thoroughly researched biography of an unusual and creative American artist about whom I knew little prior to reading the book. Solomon treats her subject with empathy as many would call this artist odd. This book also serves as a fount of information about the mid century New York art scene. I found it interesting even though it is a departure from my usual genres. I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary

    Detailed biography that was very readable, especially for someone not very familiar with the works of Joseph Cornell. I read for the Phoenix Art Museum book club. We viewed the current exhibit and discussed his works. I appreciated the book more after the discussion. And I'm amazed at the impact his work had on modern art. Well worth my time. Detailed biography that was very readable, especially for someone not very familiar with the works of Joseph Cornell. I read for the Phoenix Art Museum book club. We viewed the current exhibit and discussed his works. I appreciated the book more after the discussion. And I'm amazed at the impact his work had on modern art. Well worth my time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    I wish there was a half star rating because I would give this one 3.5 stars. Very accessible biography of a fascinating figure in modern art. I felt the author’s interpretation was a little heavy at times.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mahala

    Extensively well-researched, insightful, and sad. I loved the dream-world of Cornell’s visions, but his life is a melancholy story that will either motivate you to be a braver artist or leave you wandering around your own house disconsolate in bathrobe and slippers.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brian Durance

    "Everything about this pale, bony man and his antique-looking shadow boxes made him seem like an intruder from another century, if not another world." "Everything about this pale, bony man and his antique-looking shadow boxes made him seem like an intruder from another century, if not another world."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Luis S. Granada

    Fascinating and sad Wonderful to read the inner workings of an artist. But The price he paid haunted him for the rest of his life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

    Fascinating and detailed, but deeply melancholy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stella

    One of the best, most clear set of reasons and reflections I’ve ever read. Everything he writes is brilliant.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    I picked up this book on a whim after seeing some of Mr. Cornell's work at MoMA. I am so happy that I did....what a strange and talented man he was. Great job by the author Deborah Solomon to illustrate this odd and unusual artist's like and his works. Bravo! I picked up this book on a whim after seeing some of Mr. Cornell's work at MoMA. I am so happy that I did....what a strange and talented man he was. Great job by the author Deborah Solomon to illustrate this odd and unusual artist's like and his works. Bravo!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Solomon dedicated 7 years to this biography. The result is patient and thorough rendering of Joseph Cornell's life and work (hence the title). Driven, adored, and hassled by his mother and filial obligations, Joseph channeled his libidinal energies into his romantic boxes, collages, and relic artworks. His adulation of woman foretold by his mother's attentions and Christian Science following forbade sexual experience until his sixties. Never a selfish artist, he could hardly part with his boxes Solomon dedicated 7 years to this biography. The result is patient and thorough rendering of Joseph Cornell's life and work (hence the title). Driven, adored, and hassled by his mother and filial obligations, Joseph channeled his libidinal energies into his romantic boxes, collages, and relic artworks. His adulation of woman foretold by his mother's attentions and Christian Science following forbade sexual experience until his sixties. Never a selfish artist, he could hardly part with his boxes for sale. He would rather bestow them to magical innocent female creatures he celebrated from afar in his usual voyeuristic way. Solomon is quick to admit the conflicting and troubling pulls of being critic and biographer. Joseph toiled in menial day jobs, and only had the meager kitchen table at his studio once his overbearing mother and cerebral palsy afflicted brother went to sleep. Sadly, I missed the MoMA 2007 show of his works, but he used found materials, and recombined footage before anyone else. Pop Art, Assemblage, and Minimalism owe a great deal to his creations from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Cornell beat Warhol in a Marilyn Monroe creation. Most surprising, Yayoi Kusama introduced Cornell into physical intimacy up to "soixante-neuf" as he wrote in French to minimize the scandalous nature of his actions while his mother lived. Artists, ballerinas, scholars, and poets were drawn to his odd shy manner and to his art. They made the subway voyage out to Utopia Parkway, Queens (underdeveloped especially during this era) to enter his parsimonious living quarters only to realize how complex his inner fantasies and joys must have been to make such lyrical art. Another odd note: handsome actor Tony Curtis, fascinated with the wooden boxes, began crafting Cornell-esque pieces to Joseph's dismay. One feels a sadness about this man, yet he found joy in beauty, youth, and historical figures in which he found an immortal appreciation. Fantastic book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    David

    Joseph Cornell, for all his reticence (may he forgive me that judgement), met a remarkable number of the 20th century's creative people, from Marianne Moore to Robert Rauschenberg to Susan Sontag to Andy Warhol, and all of these connections are documented in Deborah Solomon's fine biography and assessment of the work. Cornell was a part of, and stood apart from, several disparate movements in the art world: the Surrealists, the (largely forgotten) neo-Romantics, the Ab Ex crowd, the Minimalists, Joseph Cornell, for all his reticence (may he forgive me that judgement), met a remarkable number of the 20th century's creative people, from Marianne Moore to Robert Rauschenberg to Susan Sontag to Andy Warhol, and all of these connections are documented in Deborah Solomon's fine biography and assessment of the work. Cornell was a part of, and stood apart from, several disparate movements in the art world: the Surrealists, the (largely forgotten) neo-Romantics, the Ab Ex crowd, the Minimalists, and the early practitioners of Pop. In space of personal relationships, however, Solomon makes it clear that Cornell was a flop. For most of his life unable to have normal relations with members of the opposite sex, Cornell was harmless but not far from creepy. His infatuation in 1964 with the doomed Joyce Hunter, a coffee shop waitress, would make for a movie by itself. Working in the 1990s, Solomon conducted an exhaustive number of interviews with the people who knew Cornell (who died in 1972). She follows him into the defense plant where he worked briefly during World War II; she finds him running a cash register at a garden nursery in Flushing in 1944. Solomon also had the benefit of Cornell's obsessive diary-keeping, even if many of his notes were undated fragments on napkins and paper scraps.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim Goebel

    I wish that I could count this toward my reading challenge for 2014, but this is a reread for me (a threepeat even). I have always been fascincated by outsiders, loners, eccentrics with a need to express themselves and create. Joseph Cornell fits into that category for me. Basically creating his own medium, with an art career that spanned multiple decades and art movements, this repressed, old-fashioned, middle class man with crushing family pressures and a glum, stark even, everyday life had the I wish that I could count this toward my reading challenge for 2014, but this is a reread for me (a threepeat even). I have always been fascincated by outsiders, loners, eccentrics with a need to express themselves and create. Joseph Cornell fits into that category for me. Basically creating his own medium, with an art career that spanned multiple decades and art movements, this repressed, old-fashioned, middle class man with crushing family pressures and a glum, stark even, everyday life had the most vivid and romantic of imaginations, finding beauty in both high and low art, in both the the ethereal and the mundane. The most unlikely of avant-garde artists, this self-taught, gray, stilted man explored assemblage, collage, and even film-making from the nondescript Queens, NY family home that he shared most of his life with his mother and disabled younger brother. This is a fascinating, well research biography of a fascinating man.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Being a recent initiate into the brilliance of Joseph Cornell's work, It was with baited breath that I waited by my mailbox for this book to arrive. Finally, it was delivered- such a pretty cover! Such a marvelous title!- and then- oh dear. Here you have a very nice-looking academic woman prattling off a list of things having to do with some guy named Joseph Cornell; basically, making boring and dull that which is infinitely fascinating.This book feels like an assignment from an editor. Or worse Being a recent initiate into the brilliance of Joseph Cornell's work, It was with baited breath that I waited by my mailbox for this book to arrive. Finally, it was delivered- such a pretty cover! Such a marvelous title!- and then- oh dear. Here you have a very nice-looking academic woman prattling off a list of things having to do with some guy named Joseph Cornell; basically, making boring and dull that which is infinitely fascinating.This book feels like an assignment from an editor. Or worse- a square book from a well-meaning writer who hasn't learned that writing good biography takes obsessive love. If you are an imaginative person with a couple of afternoons on hand, please read this book for the sheer informational content and supply your own poetry.

  29. 4 out of 5

    courtney

    no matter how interesting the subject, i often become anxious when reading a biography. i want to plow through the boring bits about childhood troubles or contract negotiations, and get straight to the juice. with this book, it was different. perhaps this is because i am fairly enamoured with the art of joseph cornell, its subject - but it could also be because this book is incredibly well written. it presents the facts of cornell's life, work, and his journey from unknown to art history in a ma no matter how interesting the subject, i often become anxious when reading a biography. i want to plow through the boring bits about childhood troubles or contract negotiations, and get straight to the juice. with this book, it was different. perhaps this is because i am fairly enamoured with the art of joseph cornell, its subject - but it could also be because this book is incredibly well written. it presents the facts of cornell's life, work, and his journey from unknown to art history in a manner almost unprecedented in biography. kudos to the author, and definitely an excellant read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    i'm a slow reader [hence the long list of things that are on my current reading list] unless i really like something & so far i really like this books' writting style. being interested in the subject goes w/o saying since i'm a collage artist, but aside from that vested interest, i think that cornell is a facinating subject for both the artist & non artist alike......now having read this book through, i would recomend it to those looking for a good read, providing that you have the stomach for r i'm a slow reader [hence the long list of things that are on my current reading list] unless i really like something & so far i really like this books' writting style. being interested in the subject goes w/o saying since i'm a collage artist, but aside from that vested interest, i think that cornell is a facinating subject for both the artist & non artist alike......now having read this book through, i would recomend it to those looking for a good read, providing that you have the stomach for reading about someone like cornell

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