Saturday, July 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, excerpt thirteen)

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

Cornell soon found another assistant with the help of Eugene Goossen, who had organized his Bennington College show and who now came through on the promise he had made to find Cornell a female helper. Pat Johanson, who started work in January 1961 (and whom Goossen would later marry), was a junior majoring in art and was thrilled at the prospect of spending a semester in New York in the company of an important artist. During her first days on the job, Cornell struck her as a charming oddball. It was the dead of winter, and he would toss birdseed on the kitchen table and open a window so that sparrows flew in from the yard. The birds ate off the table as Cornell looked on, as if willing his Aviary boxes into motion. “When you saw the man in situ,” she later remarked, “that was the interesting part: he lived all those tableaux that appear in his boxes. All of them.”

But Johanson, an attractive brunette, soon became afraid of Cornell. There was something disturbing about the attention he lavished on her. She suspected that he looked at her in strictly sexual terms and was twisted by ungratified desires. “Whenever I arrived,” she said, “he would chase his mother upstairs, and if she didn’t want to go, he’d become insistent. ‘Out, out, out.’ I think he wanted to be alone with me. I think he wanted just to look at me.” Acting with uncharacteristic impatience, Cornell brushed aside Robert as well. One evening he served his brother a Swanson’s frozen dinner without bothering to heat it up. “It was so pathetic,” Johanson said. “Robert just sat there stabbing at this piece of ice with his fork.”

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