Utopia Parkway

I’m jealous of you east-coasters, so densely populated, so close to so many interesting things. Sometimes I wonder if I should stop reading the New York Times (online, of course), to prevent moments of intense envy, but I probably never will. The latest is this: There’s a big Joseph Cornell show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. I really like Joseph Cornell — there’s a creepy sweetness to his box compositions that I find intriguing. I get annoyed at the way so many art historians look down their noses at him. “Rauschenberg’s boxes are much more complex than Cornell’s,” they say (or one says) — fair enough (maybe), but don’t you think Cornell got the ball rolling in the first place (pun intended — see Penny Arcade, below)? And yet he is on the fringe of the story, a self-taught, awkward, lonely man who lived with his mother and disabled brother until their deaths and developed crushes on people who he didn’t have a chance with. I’m okay with that. I don’t expect my favorite artists to be well-adjusted people, and neither should you.


Anyway, the New York Times review is somewhat of a work of art in itself. I think that a lot of art writing is autobiographical, and I picture this Holland Cotter character as someone who can identify with loneliness. And I can identify with that. Also Holland is someone with a cool name, though a slightly pretentious one. Is it safe to say that someone who begins an article on one icon with a quote from one of Western civilization’s most difficult icons (Gertrude Stein) might be slightly pretentious? I’m okay with that, too. I like these bits the best:

  1. “His work gives off provocatively contradictory signals: it is guileless but sophisticated, occult but self-revealing, sweet and corrupt.”
  2. “romantic, not sardonic; sensual but not overtly sexual; sophisticated but unearthly.”

Nice work, Holland. And I guess the pretense of the Stein quote is probably accepted by your pretentious readers, of which I am probably one.

I’m a fan of contradiction, and Cornell has it. Read the NYT article. Check out the slide show. If you’re still interested, find yourself a copy of A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by Joseph Cornell, a work of pure ekphrastic loveliness. If you like this, it will send you on plenty of tangents. If you need suggestions on which tangents to follow, I may be able to help.

The show travels to SFMOMA in the fall. I might make it out, but the current California travel priority is farther south, and unlike the east coast, the west coast hubs aren’t really close to each other. Alas…



Filed under art

3 responses to “Utopia Parkway

  1. This title reminds me of a band I saw play at a Borders cafe when I lived in New York. I didn’t know it was an actual parkway. I was shocked at the coincidence that fountains of wayne named their album the same thing. Luckily, I have google here to educate me and make me smarter.

    I know you enjoy hiking, so I hope a picture of glenwood canyon from the hanging lake trailhead will cheer you up. Also, I hope the HTML is right and I didn’t jack up your page.

  2. It didn’t post at all. I will post the link instead.

  3. Pingback: Year Salvador Dalí Died: 1989 « distillation

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