Andromeda Hotel: The Art of Joseph Cornell

by Therese Lichtenstein




1. Jodi Hauptman, Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema (New Haven: Yale University Press, l999), 3.

2. The figure of a woman with an outstretched arm is visible in the bright Andromeda constellation located in the Northern sky. The nonlinear spiral structure of the Andromeda Galaxy parallels Cornell's nonlinear method of juxtaposing objects from the natural and cultural world across various time frames.

3. Many of Cornell's boxes and collages are dedicated to the movie stars and ballerinas he admired and adored, mostly from afar, including: the actresses Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, and Marilyn Monroe, and the ballerinas Anna Pavlova, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni (from the tradition of the Romantic Ballet), Tamara Toumanova, and Tilly Losch .

4. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, "Joseph Cornell's Dance with Duality," in Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Richard Vine,and Robert Lehrman, with commentary by Walter Hopps, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 72. This is evidenced in his Soap Bubble Sets, which he began constructing in 1936. This was his first series of glass-paned, wood box constructions. Many of them look like children's science projects.

5. Joseph Cornell's Theatre of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files, edited with an introduction by Mary Ann Caws (New York: Thames & Hudson, l993), 155.

6. Richard Vine, "Eterniday: Cornell's Christian Science 'Metaphysique,'" in Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 40.

7. Diane Waldman observes that "planets and souls are the themes of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's legendary fable, Le Petit Prince published in 1943." Cornell met Saint-Exupery that same year. Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002), 105-06.

8. Caws, Joseph Cornell's Theatre of the Mind, 136. According to Vine, the term "métaphysique d'ephemera" is "a mélange of French and English (of Greek derivation) that yokes purely abstract philosophizing with empirical scrutiny" ("Eterniday," 39).

9. Cornell, in a diary entry from l960, compares his works to "a kind of 'forgotten game,' a philosophical toy of the Victorian era, with poetic or magical 'moving parts'" (Hauptman, Joseph Cornell 165-66). Cornell's collages and shadow boxes are also reminiscent of Dali's painted representations of boxes in Illumined Pleasures (1929).

10. Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, 164. Andre Breton writes, "Praising the transformative power of the child's mind and the need for reactivation in adulthood, the eye exists in its savage state. When we were children we had toys that would make us weep with pity and anger today. One day, perhaps, we shall see the toys of our whole life spread before us like those of childhood" (Andre Breton, Surrealism and Painting, intro. Mark Polizzotti, trans. Simon Watson Taylor [1928; Boston: MFA Publications, 2002], 165). "Baudelaire defined genius as 'childhood regained at will.' He believed 'the child sees everything as a novelty; he is always intoxicated.'" Quoted from Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire (New York: New Directions, l972), 53; and by Jeffrey Coven, Baudelaire's Voyages-The Poet and His Painters (New York: Little, Brown, l993), 129, 226.

11.Sigmund Freud, "The Relation of the Poet to Daydreaming" (l908), Delusion & Dream (Boston: Beacon Press, l956), 123.

12. Ibid., 125.

13. Ibid., 124.

14. Ibid., 133.

15. Ibid,. 133.

16. A flaneur refers to a gentleman of leisure strolling about town and intensely observing his environment. He is more of an observer than a participant. The urban environment is his setting.

17. Waldman, Joseph Cornell, 118.

18. "Creativity was an extremely physical act for Cornell. In the absence of art training, he learned by doing, and he frequently referred to himself as a maker rather than an artist" (Hartigan, "Joseph Cornell's Dance with Duality," 19). Cornell created a number of different types of box constructions: ballet variants, soap bubble sets, chests and cabinets, Medici slot machines, hotels and observatories, celestial navigation variants. He saw paintings of the Medici that were on view at the 1939 Worlds Fair and paintings of Johannes Vermeer, including The Milkmaid (ca. 1658).

19. Ibid., 148. "The concept of armchair voyaging derives from the venerable tradition of writing travel accounts for the benefit of future generations."

20. Cornell's Taglioni's Jewel Casket (l940) was one of the boxes he dedicated to her memory.

21. Robert Lehrman, "Living with Cornell: A Collector's View," in Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 218.

22. Hartigan, "Joseph Cornell's Dance with Duality," 138.

23. Ibid., 23.

24. He would often cover the front of his boxes with a tinted blue glass panel to enhance their mysterious quality.

25. Caws, Joseph Cornell's Theatre of the Mind, 130. An examination of Cornell's diaries and letters is crucial to a deeper understanding of his work.

26. Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker, February 17 and February 24, 2003.

27. Cornell was also a major experimental filmmaker and was fascinated by early cinema. Time was visually stopped in the cinema of the 1890s with the work of Georges Méliès, whose films played with stop time and reversing time.

28. See Vine for a discussion of the concept "Eterniday," 40.

29. Thus, it is not surprising that in recent years interest in Cornell has increased, resulting in numerous publications and exhibitions of his work.

30. See Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), for a discussion of the current culture industry of nostalgia.

31. Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, 3.

32. Vine, "Eterniday," 41, n. 21. (T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets [1943; reprint, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, l971], 13, paraphrasing Saint Augustine).


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