JOSEPH CORNELL’S MANUAL OF MARVELS: HOW JOSEPH CORNELL REINVENTED A FRENCH AGRICULTURAL MANUAL TO CREATE AN AMERICAN MASTERPIECE
One of Joseph Cornell’s favorite pastimes was to meander through the used bookstalls of lower Manhattan, sorting through old books, magazines, postcards, photos, and other ephemera in search of items to spark his creative impulses. Sometime in the early 1930s he came upon the Journal d’Agriculture Pratique (Volume 21, 1911), a voluminous handbook of advice for farmers. Though he was very much an urban creature, he adored French culture of that period, and the book was filled with charming black and white engravings and photographs of pigs, horses, vegetables, and farm machinery.
Over time Cornell altered and reinvented many of the pages in the Journal. He inserted collages, photomontages, and occasional drawings; he crossed out words in the text and made French puns with others. Hand-colored engravings, cutouts, lift-ups, and even origami intricately transport the reader from page to page.
The dazzling elegance of Cornell’s work on the Journal has rarely been viewed. It was discovered in his basement studio soon after his death in 1972 and is now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Due to its fragility, the work is not well known, even among Cornell scholars. Now, in a unique venture, sixty of the most extraordinary pages have been re-created in virtual facsimile, with cutouts, glue-ons, and other unique handmade details. Included in a faux wood-grain box are a CD-ROM digitally reproducing the pages of the book, including pop-up commentaries, and a volume of illustrated essays on the Journal and Cornell’s artistic practice.
Over ten years in the making, Joseph Cornell’s Manual of Marvels, edited by Analisa Leppanen-Guerra and Dickran Tashjian, was released with Thames & Hudson in November 2012, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition to co-editing the publication and writing part of the commentary for the CD-ROM, Leppanen-Guerra also contributed two essays to this publication. The volume also includes essays by Dickran Tashjian, professor emeritus from the University of California, Irvine, and Dawn Ades, professor of art history and theory at the University of Essex.
The book has been produced in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the owners of the Journal. In honor of the book’s release, the museum created an exhibition showcasing Cornell’s masterpiece along with all of the other Cornell works in their collection (Oct. 2012 – February 2013).
The publication has received glowing reviews by The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, Bookforum, and others.
CHILDREN’S STORIES AND ‘CHILD-TIME’ IN THE WORKS OF JOSEPH CORNELL AND THE TRANSATLANTIC AVANT-GARDE
Winner of a College Art Association Wyeth Foundation for American Art Publication Grant.
Focusing on his evocative and profound references to children and their stories, Children’s Stories and “Child-Time” in the Works of Joseph Cornell and the Transatlantic Avant-Garde studies the relationship between the artist’s work on childhood and his search for a transfigured concept of time. This study also situates Cornell and his art in the broader context of the transatlantic avant-garde of the 1930s and 40s.
Analisa Leppanen-Guerra explores the children’s stories that Cornell perceived as fundamental in order to unpack the dense network of associations in his under-studied multimedia works. Moving away from the usual focus on his box constructions, the author directs her attention to Cornell’s film and theater scenarios, “explorations,” “dossiers,” and book-objects. One highlight of this study is a work that may well be the first artist’s book of its kind, and has only been exhibited twice: Untitled (Journal d’Agriculture Pratique), presented as Cornell’s enigmatic tribute to Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.
“Various writers in the past have touched on Joseph Cornell’s fascination with childhood, and on play and toys as subjects in his work, but there has not yet been a study which deals with the subject head-on. This book is among the best in the rich literature on Cornell.”
David Hopkins, University of Glasgow, UK