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 tĂȘtes, 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

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