Utopia Parkway

The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell

Publication Date: Oct 13, 2015

448 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $19.95
Trim Size (H x W): 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781590517147


List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590517154

Deborah Solomon’s definitive biography of Joseph Cornell, one of America’s most moving and unusual twentieth-century artists, now reissued ten years later  

Few artists ever led a stranger life than Joseph Cornell, the self-taught American genius prized for his enigmatic shadow boxes, who stands at the intersection of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art. Legends about Cornell abound—the shy hermit, the devoted family caretaker, the artistic innocent—but never before has he been presented for what he was: a brilliant, relentlessly serious artist whose stature has now reached monumental proportions.

Excerpt from Utopia Parkway

On a typical afternoon, Joseph Cornell might stop in at his local Bickford’s restaurant for a cup of tea and a slice of cherry pie. One can see him now, a thin, wraithlike man at his own table, bent over a book while enjoying his snack. He reads intently, absorbed in a biography of Chopin or Goethe or some other formidable figure, pausing only to scribble a note on his paper napkin or to gaze with birdlike keenness at a waitress. Cornell was a great reader of biographies; his library included dozens of books on poets, musicians, and scientists, among others, and they attest at least partly to the difficulty he had in sustaining friendships. He fared better with the deceased. He loved to immerse himself in the lives of the illustrious dead, with whom his identification was intense, and who became his most valued coffee-shop companions as they sprang to life inside his bony box of a head.

One suspects it never occurred to Cornell that one day he himself would become the subject of a biography and that someone, somewhere, would perhaps sit down at a table in a coffee-shop and open a book about him. The idea would have struck him as ludicrous, for his life was less a story than a strange situation. For most of his years, he resided with his mother and handicapped brother in their small frame house on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Cornell was no bohemian, just a gaunt man in drab clothes whose days were spent mainly in his basement workshop, where he arranged marbles, metal rings, and other frugally poetic objects in small shadow boxes—and transported five-and-dime reality into his own brand of unreality, which to him was as real as the objects in his boxes.

“Deborah Solomon’s admirable biography illuminates the life of the man without diminishing the mystery of his art.” —New York Magazine

“A principal virtue of this biography . . . is that it challenges in a very authoritative way the received idea of Cornell as merely the timorous recluse, the marginal artist of Utopia Parkway.” —James R. Mellow, New York Times Book Review

“As perfectly composed, richly nuanced and quietly surprising as one of Cornell’s boxes.” Donna Seaman, Chicago Tribune

“Deborah Solomon’s clear-eyed and sympathetic narrative does for [Cornell’s] life what he, as an artist, did for his penny world…It is a book about Cornell I would not dare to have hoped for in our mean and deconstructionist age.” Arthur C. Danto, Art Critic, The Nation

“Fascinating reading . . . Skillfully weaving together fact, anecdote, and conjecture, Solomon brings Cornell’s place in the art world and his legacy to artists of the younger generation into sharp focus.” —Allison Kemmerer, Boston Book Review