Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files by Mary Ann Caws

Joseph Cornell is a legendary yet living presence in American art. His famous boxes, with their ineffably perfect choice of elements -- the stuffed birds, the buttons and toys, the fragments of old theatrical posters, the poignant allusions to the worlds of the nineteenth-century ballet and opera -- are some of the most recognizable signatures in all of twentieth-century art.From this extended selection of his diaries and other written material, Cornell emerges as a deeply dedicated and conscious artist, though one whose personality was every bit as unusual as many had perceived. Cornell used his diaries as he used his boxes, to capture and preserve his passing feelings, his momentary urges, and his anguished hesitations. He was an incessant and brilliant recorder of his thoughts as he considered his art or traveled to New York to haunt the antiquarian bookstores and shops where he collected material for his boxes.

We see here his deep immersion in French symbolist poetry and his intense interest in his surrealist contemporaries. We see also his plangent yearning for "les sylphides", the fairies of the ballet world who seemed to be reincarnated for him in the form of waitresses, dancers, actresses, and shop girls in his own world. Cornell corresponded with an astonishing range of people including Parker Tyler, Marianne Moore, Tony Curtis, Robert Motherwell, and Susan Sontag. His letters were often sent in the form of collages, and several of them are reproduced in this book.

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