Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joseph Cornell: Eterniday

1939: Cornell's second solo show receives a positive review from Henry McBride in The Sun.

1941: Cornell develops intense crushes on the ballerina Tamara Toumanova and the movie start Hedy Lamarr. He creates art works inspired by them. He writes a long letter to a friend recounting a fantasy of seeing Hedy Lamarr dressed in mens clothing and riding a bicycle.

1942: Cornell befriends many artists who had recently moved to New York including Roberto Matta and Marcel Duchamp.

September 4, 1942: Cornell works briefly as an assembler of radio controls. He develops a crush on a woman named Anne Hoysio and gives her a little velvet lined box he had made as a tribute to ballerinas. Nothing would ever happen between them.

1943: Cornell creates two works of art that celebrate girlish innocence: The Crystal Cage and Bebe Marie.

1944: Cornell befriends the poet Marianne Moore, a woman almost 20 years older than him. Both find they have much in common. For example, both live with their mothers and both are exceedingly prudish.

1946: After seeing Lauren Bacall's film debut, Cornell makes the box known as Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall. He exhibits it along with other works at his "Portraits of Women" exhibition at the Hugo Gallery.

1949: Cornell begins making boxes devoted to birds. He was excited when artist Willem de Kooning admired their "architecture."

1953: After reading Emily Dickinson's poems and biographies, Cornell feels a close connection to her longings and loneliness. He makes the box Toward the Blue Peninsula as a tribute to her.

1956: Cornell befriends two teenagers: Performance artist Carolee Schneemann and ballerina Allegra Kent. Despite their age differences, they would become close friends.

1958: Cornell begins recording detailed accounts of the girls he watched out the window of Bickford's Cafeteria. He loved to describe their clothing and androgynous features.

1962: Just as he had ridden along side of the Surrealists and the Abstract Expressionists, Cornell exhibited his art with the Pop artists when they emerged. He even includes Lichtenstein-esque word balloons in his collage, Where Does the Sun Go at Night?

1962: Cornell experiences his first kiss with 18 year old runaway waitress Joyce Hunter.

January 28, 1964: Tony Curtis and his wife visit Cornell at home and buy three works. His brother Robert is delighted to meet a movie star. His mother doesn't recognize the actor. Curtis would later say about Cornell, "He adored women, but relationships weren't possible for him. He wasn't able...to go from step to step with a woman - from holding hands to 'I'll see you later... we'll go to the movies'...These things were alien to Joseph." Curtis himself made shadow boxes, but never managed to impress Cornell with his work.

1964: Cornell has his first physical relationship with a woman, artist Yayoi Kusama, at the age of 60. Whenever Yayoi dries her hands on a dishtowel at the Cornell residence, Cornell's mother boils the dishtowels right in front of her. Once, Mrs. Cornell actually tosses a pot of water at the two when they were kissing in the back yard.

September 17, 1964: Cornell bails out Joyce Hunter from jail after she is caught selling shadow boxes she stole from him. He doesn't press charges, but starts locking up his art work.

December 18, 1964: Joyce Hunter is murdered. Cornell receives a Christmas card from her a day later. He is crushed and forever haunted by Joyce's death. He pays for her burial and even offers to raise her three year old daughter, but detectives never locate any of Joyce's relatives.

February 26, 1965: Robert Cornell dies of pneumonia. Marcel Duchamp's wife Teeny wrote to Cornell, "I will always remember his lively spirit and gentle humor." Because their deaths were so close, Cornell would always pair Robert and Joyce together in his thoughts as two innocent and helpless sould wandering through eternity together.

January 4-29, 1966: The "Robert Cornell: Memorial Exhibition" opens. Cornell exhibits some of Robert's drawings such as Baby Hippo, Mouse King, and Unbreakable Rabbit-Drum, as well as some collages he made to honor his lost brother. Some critics are unkind, but others realize that Cornell is just trying to preserve his brother's memory, not change the art world.

1966: Cornell becomes infatuated with Susan Sontag after seeing her on television. Years after meeting him at his home, Sontag said, "I certainly was not relaxed or comfortable in his presence, but why should I be? That's hardly a complaint. He was a delicate, complicated person whose imagination worked in a very special way."

October 17, 1966: Cornell's mother dies at the age of 84. He continues to talk to her by writing her letters in his diary.

January 9-February 11, 1967: A retrospective of Cornell's art featuring 74 works opens in Pasadena. Although Cornell doesn't attend, he is pleased that the exhibition will be near the home of so many actresses he has idolized over the years.

December 15, 1967: Cornell's work is featured in a 12-page spread in Life, titled "The Enigmatic Bachelor of Utopia Parkway.

c. 1970: After a Metropolitan Museum of Art Seminar for high school students, Cornell invites the children to his house where he serves them cocoa and gives them comments on their collages. David Saunders would later say, "He was very accepting and I had never been treated that way by an adult before."

c. 1971: John Lennon and Yoko Ono visit Cornell's home and buy ten collages. Cornell is very excited because Ono wears a see-through shirt.

c. 1971: Travel writer Leila Hadley has a relationship with Cornell.

1972: Cornell's niece sees him empty a pill capsule into a glass of water and drink it. He has never taken medication and doesn't know how.

December 29, 1972: Joseph Cornell dies peacefully at his home on Utopia Parkway.

Utopia Parkway by Deborah Solomon

Monday, October 27, 2008

Joseph Cornell: A Young Artist

September 1921: Cornell begins working for a textile wholesaler in Manhattan as a "sample boy." He loathes peddling cloth, but loves roaming the streets of New York. He works as a salesman for the next ten years.

1922: Cornell has his first of many celebrity crushes on opera singer Geraldine Farrar. He works up the courage to introduce himself and is given a signed photograph which he treasured for the rest of his life.

1924: Cornell sees the ballerina Anna Pavlova perform in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House. In the future he will make many works of art devoted to ballerinas.

c. 1925: After suffering increasingly painful stomachaches (possibly brought on the by the massive amounts of sugary foods he often ingested) Cornell seeks help from a Christian Science "practitioner." He is drawn to the idea of the natural world being an illusion. He sees the founder Mary Baker Eddy as another Houdini, who has the power to magically make physical ailments disappear. He is a devoted follower of the religion for the rest of his life because of "the natural, wholesome, healing, and beautiful thing that it is."

c. 1927: Although Cornell loves ballet, opera, and theatre, he prefers films because they are more anonymous and illusory. He prefers silent films, however, to the new films with sound, which he describes as an "empty roar."

May 9, 1929: Cornell's family moves to a house on Utopia Parkway in Queens. He would live there the rest of his life.

1931: Inspired my Max Ernst's collage-novel La femme 100 têtes, Cornell makes his first work of art, known as Schooner.

January 1932: Fortuitously, Cornell brings his art to the Julien Levy Gallery just as Levy is about to mount the first exhibition of Surrealist work. Although Levy thinks Cornell's work is rather imitative or Ernsts, he allows Cornell to exhibit because he is trying to encourage the American Surrealist movement. None of Cornell's work sells and he is not mentioned in the reviews.

November 1932: Cornell has his first solo show. In preparation, he buys small, cardboard pill boxes, empties them of their contents, and fills them with his own idea of a cure: beads, scraps of paper, shells, sequins, sand, and other bits of ephemera. He also places a variety of objects inside of bell jars. Reviewers call his work "toys for adults."

1933: Cornell begins teaching Sunday School at the Christian Science Church in Great Neck.

Summer 1936: Cornell makes his first shadow box, Soap Bubble Set. The work is thought to represent his family.

1936: Cornell makes his first collage film. Salvador Dali is so jealous that he overturns the projector and calls Cornell a "Skunk." Later, Dali said, "My idea for a film was exactly that... I never wrote it or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it."

1938: Cornell makes his first sale.

Utopia Parkway by Deborah Solomon

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Joseph Cornell: The Boy

Dec. 24, 1903: Joseph I. Cornell is born in South Nyack, New York. The sixth in a row with that name, he would never know what the 'I' stood for.

February 1905 and February 1906: Cornell's sisters Elizabeth and Helen are born.

c. 1909: Cornell spends time with his family on Coney Island, playing with penny arcades, riding waterslides, and taking family photos in front of western backdrops.

June 6, 1910: Cornell's younger brother Robert is born with Cerebral Palsy. He was not mentally retarded, but he could only speak in grunts, and get around with a wheel chair. Cornell would care for him for the rest of Robert's life.

April 30, 1917: Cornell's mother tells her children to look out the window and wave goodbye to their father "because," she said, "that's the last time you'll ever see him." Cornell's father dies of Pernicious Anemia that night.

September 1917: Cornell is sent to Phillips Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts. He'll be remembered at a "loner" who was often ill with indigestion. The only class he does well in is French. He will always have a love for all things French including the composer Debussy and the poet Mallarme.

c. 1918: Cornell writes a paper for school about his childhood experience watching Harry Houdini perform at the Hippodrome in New York City. He would forever be fascinated with the idea of escape. The metal rings and suspended chains would often appear in his boxes. It is understandable that Cornell would be drawn to someone who could escape any restraint, after all, he wanted nothing more than to see Robert overcome the restraints of Cerebral Palsy.

c. 1919: Cornell goes antique shopping for the first time and feels the connection to the past that objects provide for him.

c. 1920: Cornell's sister wakes up to find Cornell in her room, trembling. He has been studying the concept of infinity and is both delighted and terrified of it.

June 1921: Cornell leaves Phillip's Acadamy after four years, but without graduating.

Utopia Parkway by Deborah Solomon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Discovering Mee's Sources: Part 2

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Hotel Cassiopeia is a collage composed of a variety of sources: interviews, diaries, letters, and other bits of internet gold. For example, does this interview with Don and Lillian Stokes (aka Mr. and Mrs. Birdwatching America) look familiar?

Why is the play titled Hotel Cassiopeia?

“Because, Cassiopeia the constellation lasts through all eternity, while a hotel is where people check in for a couple of nights.”

- Charles Mee

Cassiopeia 1 c. 1960

I like to think of people "checking in" to the theatre for the evening, but leaving with a little piece of that eternity that Joseph Cornell was trying to preserve in his art.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Calling all artists!

  • Do you create art in the form of paintings, drawings, sculptures, collages, or shadow boxes? (Or do you know someone who does?)
  • Do you want your work on display in the lobby of the Don Powell Theatre? (Or do you know someone who does?)

The production staff of Hotel Cassiopeia is currently accepting student-created art that was inspired by the life and/or work of Joseph Cornell to display in the lobby during the run of the play. If you are interested (or know someone who is) please e-mail Lauren Beck at lbeck79@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Research is fun!

Take a look at the Peabody Essex Museums fun, informative, and interactive website about Joseph Cornell.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where is Joyce?

Although Cornell idolized innocence, he had a preoccupation with the loss of innocence in the archetypal Nymphet. This is evident in many of the women and girls that Cornell idolized.

One in particular was a girl named Joyce Hunter, a waitress at a coffee shop Cornell frequented in 1964 when he was 61. Cornell, in his typical fashion, admired her from afar, day after day, while she served customers. On Valentine's Day, he had a friend deliver a college to Joyce. Finding out that the teen was a uneducated, runaway mother who jumped from man's bed to another only caused Cornell to obsess more about Joyce. He saw her as a lost innocent that he could save.

Cornell began going to the coffee shop more and more, and Joyce who liked to see what effect her flirtation would have on him. She began visiting at home and managed to charm him into giving her a few of his collage boxes. What Cornell didn't know was that she sold the boxes to an art dealer immediately after he gave them to her. At the age of 61, Cornell enjoyed his first kiss with Joyce, although it is unclear if he kissed her on the mouth. After that, Joyce stopped working at the coffee shop and it was a few months before Cornell heard from her.

One day, Joyce showed up at Cornell's house and asked for another box. It was then that he realized that she was using him and was a lost cause. He told her she could not have any more boxes, so she came back at night with her boyfriend and stole some from Cornell's garage. Joyce was caught trying to sell the boxes and was turned into the police. Strangely, Cornell blamed himself for Joyce's further descent and paid the thousand dollars to bail her out of jail. He was again obsessed with Joyce and hoped that she would turn her life around.

Cornell was devasted when, three months later, he heard that Joyce had been murdered. The fact that his brother Robert died only three months after Joyce, probably caused the two tragedies to intermingle in his brain. He often thought of Joyce, wrote notes to her, and dreamt of her "in a baby blue dress."

Although there is no character named Joyce in Hotel Cassiopeia, I believe that she is represented by two characters: Waitres and Girl. The Waitress in scene 1 captivates Cornell in a way that Joyce did. She initially appears wholly innocent and yet, her later lines are suggestive in a way that hints at the lost innocence of Joyce. The character of the Girl also appears innocent at first in her 60s-style blue dress, but later begins to dance suggestively for Joseph.

Although these opinions about Waitress and Girl are only my interpretations, I believe that they add depth to the roles and connect them to Joseph Cornell's history.

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon

Monday, October 6, 2008

Subscribe to the H.C. Blog!

Clicking the "Subscribe" button in the left panel will allow you to use an RSS reader to receive updates of this blog. If you haven't already signed up for an RSS reader, don't worry, it's easy! If you have a Google account (for Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, etc.) you can use Google Reader. If you don't have a Google account, you can easily get one for free here. Or, if you prefer, you can try one of these other readers: Bloglines, Netvibes, Newsgator, My Yahoo, Amphetadesk, or FeedReader. Once you have subscribed to this blog, you can subscribe to all the other regularly updated sites that you read! If you are using the web browser Firefox, you will see a symbol (like the orange one here with the three white lines) in the right hand side of the address bar. Clicking that symbol will allow you to subscribe to the page, or you can click the "Subscribe" button if the page has one.