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:
- “His work gives off provocatively contradictory signals: it is guileless but sophisticated, occult but self-revealing, sweet and corrupt.”
- “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…