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Joseph Cornell
July 2, 2011 3:38 PM   Subscribe

"The first and greatest American Surrealist, Joseph Cornell is best known for his boxes. The best of his mysterious assemblages of dime-store tchochkes and paper ephemera in little hand-made cabinets perfectly realize the elusive sublime at the heart of Surrealism, while avoiding the juvenile theatrics of his European colleagues. However, Cornell was also one of the most original and accomplished filmmakers to emerge from the Surrealist movement, and one of the most peculiar. Just as the ascetic and introverted Cornell himself held Surrealism at arms length, borrowing only those elements that suited his interests and temperament, his films superficially resemble those made by other Surrealists, they are in truth sui generis. Only a handful of his contemporaries understood the genius of films like his Rose Hobart — an unfortunate situation exacerbated by Cornell's own obstinate resistance to public screenings. No one made films even remotely similar to Cornell's for almost thirty years, and even now the perfect opacity of his montage remains unrivalled." Jack's Dream :: Cotillion / The Midnight Party :: By Night with Torch and Spear :: Centuries of June :: more
posted by puny human (16 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those in the midwest, there are currently exhibitions of modern art influenced by Cornell on display at the MCA in Chicago and The Walker in Minneapolis. The linked films in the post are also showing through the end of August at the SFMOMA.
posted by machaus at 3:52 PM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The first and greatest American Surrealist"
I know thesem are not your own words, puny human
The Surrealists were a membership organization that kept a roster which never included this man.

I don't presume Breton would have overlooked his religion and appeal to nostalgia long enough to let him join, even if Cornell had wanted to (he made it clear he didn't, he considered the Surrealists work black magic and his own white magic). I assume he would have disagreed with the official Surrealist support of Soviet Communism as well.
posted by idiopath at 4:00 PM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Worth pointing out this post previously on Metafilter - there have been a couple of Cornell posts, but that one has really interesting comments.
posted by with hidden noise at 4:00 PM on July 2, 2011


The music*, especially the instrumentals after the first song used in Rose Hobart is pretty awesome.

...a tape of "Forte Allegre" and "Belem Bayonne" from Nestor Amaral's Holiday in Brazil.
posted by Skygazer at 5:00 PM on July 2, 2011


The best of his mysterious assemblages of dime-store tchochkes and paper ephemera in little hand-made cabinets perfectly realize the elusive sublime at the heart of Surrealism, while avoiding the juvenile theatrics of his European colleagues.

"Juvenile theatrics." Ouch. It is easy to dismiss the dog-and-pony show of Breton's gang, but their manifestos and philosophy and especially their output are a high point in Western culture.

Cornell was sui generis, but so was Max Ernst (my favorite), and Dali (though the latter often in an obnoxious way, politically and aesthetically.)

Thanks for posting his films. I didn't know he had worked with Stan Brakhage. He was certainly a multidimensional artist. An artist in touch with the Surrealist sense of wonder, however much he chose to acknowledge that particular source of inspiration.
posted by kozad at 6:01 PM on July 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Worth pointing out this post previously on Metafilter

Wow that's a hell of a thread.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:04 PM on July 2, 2011


Dali's petulant reaction to Cornell is what knocked him off the pedestal young jtron had put him on. Thanks for this, his artistic output is such a touchstone for me.
posted by jtron at 8:23 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just saw a surrealist exhibition here in Vancouver. Some of Cornell's boxes were included, and also his film Rose Hobart.

The Surrealists were a membership organization that kept a roster which never included this man

This is a painting by Andre Masson; and this a painting by that most American of artists, Jackson Pollock.
Amazingly similar. It wouldn't be out of place to call Pollock a surrealist, or more accurately, to say his first major works were surrealist paintings.

It doesn't matter whether or not you're part of a roster, your art can still be surrealist and you can be a surrealist artist without being a Surrealist. Which Cornell was. Great post by the way and Ubu is a wonderful resource.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:35 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Worth pointing out this post previously on Metafilter

Definitely. nickyskye's comment pretty much brands itself on one's brain.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:33 PM on July 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Phlegmco(tm) : Masson designed a curtain, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, in 1942 for a Society of American Friends of France ceremony that showed his involvement with France’s plight in the midst of war. Clement Greenberg stated that Masson's visit to America played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism in New York. Jackson. Pollock's Totem 1 (1944) is considered an extrapolation of Masson's Meditation on Oak Leaf, [18] and his Pasiphaë (1943) was painted soon after Masson’s work of the same title, while Gorky’s Garden in Sochi series (early 1940s. They were neighbors in Connecticut) has parallels with Masson’s art of those years.
posted by adamvasco at 1:26 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phlegmco(tm): "your art can still be surrealist and you can be a surrealist artist without being a Surrealist"

I'll have you note that the text I was responding to used the word Surrealist with a capital S.

The simplest Surrealist act consists of running down into the street, pistols in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.

Leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement.

We have names for styles or tendencies in visual art that are not coherent movements with things like a manifesto, an autocratic leader, specific membership and official birth and death dates. Names like impressionism or pop art or abstract expressionism. Surrealism is not a tendency in visual art but a movement and philosophy that was expressed as a set of abstract themes and obsessions through a variety of styles and mediums, including mediums that are not even visual or even artforms.

Flights of fancy, the imagery and logic of dreams, are not "surrealist", and have been associated with the world of children (Cornell's favored world) for centuries.

When you talk about the "surrealism" of Cornell, a hypothetical "surrealism" that accepts religion as it already exists, that does not advocate for a revolutionary destruction of the economic and social status quo, that revels in precious nostalgia, that would rather idealize the purity of an imagined human than fuck a living one, you aren't talking about Surrealism, or even surrealism, at all.
posted by idiopath at 2:09 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the off chance that this horse has even a breath of life left in it:

Of the links provided here, exactly one of them calls a work of art by Cornell "Surrealist" (I don't think that any even used the term without capitalization). And I suspect that this was either an error in translation or editing. And I know that it is an error of fact. In particular, the New Yorker link describes exactly how and why he was not a Surrealist (citing the same quote I did about white vs. black magic).

I am aware that I am being a prescriptivist about language here, but I respectfully contend that a degree of prescriptivism is necessary and desirable in matters of history and fact. It is a waste of time to rewrite the corpus every few years to keep up with the misuses of language. And it is pointless obfuscation to use pivotal words in one way when first hand accounts and primary sources use them with another way entirely.
posted by idiopath at 2:32 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you enjoy Joseph Cornell's work and you haven't read poet laureate Charles Simic's Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, seek out a copy, it's more than worth your time.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:26 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe also worth pointing out Robert Seydel's recent Book of Ruth? It's a lovely book - a collage narrative where Seydel imagines his aunt and uncle to have been friends with Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. Siglio's books are consistently fantastic, if a little pricey. More images here and here.
posted by with hidden noise at 12:43 PM on July 3, 2011


"Juvenile theatrics." Ouch. It is easy to dismiss the dog-and-pony show of Breton's gang, but their manifestos and philosophy and especially their output are a high point in Western culture.

I think I spotted a typo there: for some reason you put "Bretons Gang" in there instead of "Picasso". All their prattling about manifestos can't disguise the fact that compared to Picasso the Surrealists were ultimately a minor art movement destined to at most provide wall hangings for college dormitories.
posted by happyroach at 12:51 AM on July 4, 2011


Visual art was secondary, though important in the Surrealist movement. The actual numbers of Painters / Sculptures who signed up to the Surrealist cause was very small when numbered against the writers and poets. Only Two out of Twenty Six signatories to the Declaration of January 27 1925 were painters; Ernst and Masson,; Dali joined up later. Far from being a minor art movement (who Picasso was happy to travel alongside at one point) Surrealism was to have influence down to the present. They were also highly political in a highly political time - which may be difficult to comprehend in today's apathy. I suggest you investigate some of the writers and poets and look at their influences on what happened in the sixties.
Picasso was a giant and stood alone whilst The Surrealists were remarkable for their collaborations.
In your sweeping statement you also manage to ignore among others Bunuel , Magritte and a whole swathe of central European players. To illustrate with two examples
London's ICA was founded by a Surrealist.
Wolfgang Paalen was a surrealist, thinker and visionary and one of the first investigators of ethnic N. American and Pre Colombian Art.
I would also say that at one point Picasso was a surrealist, though not sworn to the church of Breton. He is on record as saying that he hoped to be remembered as, “a Spanish poet who dabbled in painting.” His book of Poems The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is largely overlooked.
The Surrealists thought and argued and thought some more. In many ways their legacy is much deeper than that of Picasso as theirs was a movement across the whole broad spectrum of arts.
posted by adamvasco at 5:53 AM on July 4, 2011


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