Monday, July 19, 2021

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

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

Though he continued to visit the city, Cornell had begun to withdraw from the world of galleries and shows. Like the long silences in his social conversations, wide gaps habitually dropped into his exhibition history. He was always recoiling from something or someone: an art collector, a curator, the whole prospect of a career in art. And in 1943 he retreated from the art world, deciding to take yet another job: he signed up for defense work. Starting in April and continuing for eight months, he worked at the Allied Control Company, Inc., an electronics plant in Long Island City, a Queens industrial district across the East River from Manhattan. His job consisted of assembling and testing radio controls, for which he was paid 55 cents an hour, about twice the minimum wage and twice what he had earned at the Traphagen textile studio. As other men went off to war, Cornell went the way of Rosie the Riveter, dutifully joining the thousands of women who worked in defense plants during the war years to compensate for the shortage of male labor.

Cornell had often complained in the past about having a nine-to-five job. He hated working – but he hated not working, as if still unable to reconcile himself to making art full-time. His triumphs of the previous year had changed his life not in the least. He was no Picasso, it seemed to him, just a man at a table in a basement in Queens, guiltily aware of his family’s needs and how little he was contributing financially. The war only reminded him further of sacrifices he had failed to make. According to his sister Betty, Cornell went back to work because “he wanted some kind of involvement” after the U.S. draft board rejected him for medical reasons. By now he was forty-one, too old to serve anyway.

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