Sunday, July 18, 2021

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

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

Most of Cornell’s ballet-related pieces belong to a long series of Homages to the Romantic Ballet, in which he sprinkled tulle and glitter into tiny velvet-lined boxes made from wood. The boxes are too treacly to qualify as substantial works of art and remind us that Cornell’s ballet-related pieces are probably the most uneven of his career. Looking at his many Homages, some as small as four inches square, we do not doubt his fondness for ballerinas and the erotic charge their costumes held for him. When Cornell faltered in his work, it was not because he was insincere. Rather, it was because he was too sincere. With every new work, he risked lapsing into the sentimental.

There is only one ballet-related box from this period which, for this viewer anyway, classifies as a masterwork: Taglioni’s Jewel Casket of 1940 (it’s now owned by the Museum of Modern Art). The title refers to Marie Taglioni, the quintessential ballerina of the Romantic era. The daughter of a well-known Italian choreographer, she achieved her greatest fame as a winged creature of the air when she danced the title role in La Sylphide in Paris in 1832. Cornell was fascinated to read in a book that the ballerina traveled with her very own “jewel casket,” in which she stored the gems that had been showered on her by appreciative kings and tsars.

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