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Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon

Joseph Cornell's concentrated his artistic impulses into two main formats, collage and boxes. It's the latter for which he is best known today. He would create wooden, glass-fronted boxes and fill them with an assortment of objects, photographs, clippings and other items, creating miniature dream-worlds.

During his creative years, Cornell never formally joined any schools or movements, but his art managed to fit in with several while remaining quietly apart. While Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art passed through their eras of fame, Cornell's work was frequently exhibited alongside. Thus Cornell's work remained contemporary for over three decades. A lifelong collector, he hated to part with any of his work and anyone who accumulated too many of his pieces risked alienating him.

Deborah Solomon's biography is wonderfully written and moves from page to page with sympathy, vigor and detail. to put this? He didn't have a very interesting life. No world traveling, great love affairs, revolutionary antics...he stayed quietly in his house in New York caring for his mother and handicapped younger brother, amassing a huge collection of memorabilia detailing the lives and careers of sundry ballerinas, actresses and other unobtainable female figures. He was a reserved yet friendly man, especially with young women. He seems to have been frequently astonished at the amount of attention he received, while simultaneously resenting a great deal of it.

For such unflamboyant life, Ms. Solomon's well-crafted prose nonetheless keeps the story moving through nearly 400 pages. Highly recommended, not only as a thorough picture of a little-known American artist, but also as biography at its best.