|UNTITLED (BEBÉ MARIE),|
|GIRL ON A SKATEBOARD|
How could I have missed JOSEPH CORNELL?
Who lived from 1903-1972 and was eccentric and reclusive and went about NYC and its suburbs collecting little bits and pieces of things and felt there were certain objects that belonged together that had been separated, possibly by decades, and made otherworldly, magical collages and boxes whereby the objects were reunited.
This idea of making connections, of reuniting things that have been lost or separated from each other is dear to my heart. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' [Luke 15: 4-6].
In fact, most people would be glad to let the rogue sheep go. The hell with him if he insists on wandering off. Only someone who has felt him- or herself to be lost, only someone who has suffered the exile of feeling cut off from the herd, would so yearn to find, and to bring back home, the one lost sheep.
The following excerpts are from Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, by the great in his own right poet and essayist Charles Simic:
WHERE CHANCE MEETS NECESSITY
Somewhere in the city of
He sets out from his home on
|JOSEPH CORNELL, 1903-1972|
with his record collection, "listening" to a book
photo: Hans Namuth
Joseph Cornell could not draw, paint, or sculpt and yet he was a great American artist.
He roamed the streets of
Here are some of the things he found and placed in a box called “L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémanetaire d’histoire naturelle,” which he constructed in 1940:
Doll’s forearm, loose red sand, wood ball, German coin, several glass and mirror fragments, 12 corkstopped bottles, cutout sphinx head, yellow filaments, 2 intertwined paper spirals, cut-out of Cléo do Mérode’s head, cutout of camels and men, loose yellow sand, 6 pearl beads, glass tube with residue of dried green liquid, crumpled tulle, rhinestones, pearl beads, sequins, metal chain, metal and glass fragments, threaded needle, red wood disc, bone and frosted glass fragments, blue celluloid, clear glass crystals, rock specimen, 7 balls, plastic rose petals, three miniature tin spoons for a doll house.
Cléo de Mérode, by the way, was a famous ballerina and feme tatale of the 1890s.
A FORCE ILLEGIBLE
Did Cornell know what he was doing? Yes, but mostly no. Does anyone fully? He knew what he liked to see and touch. what he liked, no one was interested in. Surrealism provided him with a way of being more than just an eccentric collector of sundry oddities. The ideas of art came later, if they ever did come clearly. And how could they? His is a practice of divination. Dada and surrealism gave him a precedent and a freedom. I have in mind especially their astonishing discovery that lyric poetry can come out of chance operations. Cornell believed in the same magic and he was right! All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image.
“In murky corners of old cities where everything—horror, too—is magical,” Baudelaire writes. The city is a huge image machine. A slot machine for the solitaries. Coins of reverie, of poetry, secret passion, religious madness, it converts them al. A force illegible.
ANOTHER KIND OF BOX!
SUNSET AND DESCANSO, SILVER LAKE, CALIFORNIA
Perhaps the ideal way to observe the boxes it to place them on the floor and lie down beside them.
It is not surprising that child faces stare out of the boxes and that they have the dreamy look of children at play. Theirs is the happy solitude of a time without clocks when children are masters of their world. Cornell’s boxes are reliquaries of days when imagination reigned. They are inviting us, of course, to start our childhood reveries all over again.
THE MAGIC STUDY OF HAPPINESS
In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It’s a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a neighbor. She was cold and kept hugging her thin dress tighter and tighter. The clouds in the sky sailed on as she threw her head back to laugh.
Where the words can't go any further—there’s the hard table. The crumbs are watching you as you in turn watch them. The unknown in you and the unknown in them attract each other. The two unknowns are like illicit lovers when they’re exceedingly and unaccountably happy.
|UNTITLED (THE HOTEL EDEN), c. 1945|
|UNTITLED (MEDICI BOY),|