Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, was reviewed by Leah Hager Cohen in the New York Times on Sunday. (I have an excerpt from this excellent review on my filter blog, Slow Painting, if you didn’t catch it.) Hartigan’s book is the catalog for the show that just closed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and was previously at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts (and which I wrote about on this blog last summer.) This is the first volume about Cornell that captures some of the magic that happens in the presence of a real life, breathing Cornell. Hartigan keeps a respectful distance from Cornell’s quirky, complex internal life and avoids the proclivity to psychoanalyze, a tendency in hagiography I find particularly irritating.
Hartigan’s closing paragraph is a strong statement of Cornell’s unique approach to art:
During a lifetime that coincided with an emphasis on change for the sake of change, theory and art as ends unto themselves, and upheavals in technology, science, and international relations, Cornell deliberately chose to make art as a life-affirming act of communication and educational outreach. In describing his purpose as “making people ‘at home’ with things generally considered aesthetic,” he sought beauty, wonder, spirituality, and humanity as the outcomes of his invitation to journey with him into diverse arenas. First and foremost, Cornell–navigator of the imagination–was idealistic, radical and contemporary in embracing the prospect of endless transformation while honoring the thread of history and the revolutionary strength of objects.