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21 September 2009

Joseph Cornell & the idea of boxes within boxes

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Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) (1945-46)

As Labor Day came and went, and summer came to a close, I peeled quickly through Deborah Solomon‘s Utopia Parkway: The Life & Work of Joseph Cornell, a biography of the 20th century American collage artist who lived & worked nearly his entire life in a dour little house in Queens.

Therein she shares a quote from John Updike about obsessional artists:

    “The willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurous on behalf of us all.”

Updike’s quote was not written specifically about Cornell. Rather the quote was found in the artist’s notebooks upon his death. In addition to being an obessional artist, Cornell was a champion collector of scraps and elliptical diarist.

And oh, how this quote works. It’s so appropriate that this third party quotation is the pithiest encapsulation of the conclusions Solomon’s biography draws about her subject: It’s neither something Cornell said, nor an analysis dreamed up by his biographer. Rather it’s a something a third party wrote in a magazine, which Cornell then copied into his notes, and which his biographer, in turn, copied into her own notes. A copy of a copy. Boxes within boxes, indeed.

Below, more boxes…

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Setting for a Fairy Tale (1942)

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Untitled (Medici Prince) (1952)

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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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