So late Friday night, after I drank pink cocktails and saw some gypsy bands and the extremely great Zydepunks at the Pussycat Lounge, my friend Rob and I drove to Massachusetts for the Joseph Cornell exhibit at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum
Which was MINDBLOWING. I have loved Cornell for a while but had only seen a few of his boxes in person and anything else only online. And with him there is a huge difference between what you can capture in photograph and what you see in person, his art is so alive and breathtaking. This exhibit was five whole rooms just chock full of not only his assembled boxes and collages but also films and toys and these collections of papers and ephemera mean to constitute biographies and this completely hilarious deadpan fake gossip rag about birds... and just a ton of other things. And a lot of snippets of writing, even a whole description of a film in which a pheasant jumps into a pile of fresh laundry and disrupts a photographer's shot.. and he was a lovely, lovely writer.. It reminded me of the Diane Arbus exhibit, seeing not only her photos but all these other things she did, including her feverish, poetic writing..
Anyway, you walk in and the first thing you see is a huge projection of a word poem he wrote in the shape of a tower, just strings of words like rain snails crows castles moon coins star-lit fields roosters calliopes trumpets salamanders snow constellations coral lighthouses winding staircases soap bubbles mirrors stalagmites.. and you're already dizzy with these words and then behind it are just.. so many unbelievable things. Cornell was in love with so many things that he gathers together and you have ballerinas inside clamshells and Medici children alongside slot machines from penny arcades and you have Garbo and Dante and birds and fairytales and costume jewelry and twigs and ice cubes... and... basically everything I love and think is beautiful just running up against each other. There's even an homage to Lauren Bacall he made after seeing To Have and Have Not
You leave that first room completely full and overwhelmed and then you enter a hall with photos of his studio and the house he lived in for over 40 years in Queens and the shelves of shoeboxes with names scribbled on the side like watch parts, coins, cordials, balls, plastic shells, etc etc, and a display case filled with tools and books.. and you think it's over and it's more than enough, and then you walk into what will be four more rooms.
By the second room I felt so saturated I was afraid I wouldn't remember anything else, so after--and we only had three hours there since we got into Salem at 2pm after staying the night in Worcester--I bought every book on Cornell, and some cards, one with a photo of my favorite thing in the exhibit, this box with a pink palace inside with tiny mirrors for windows and these thin twigs jutting up behind and sparkle everywhere... but in the photo it looks like nothing special and in person it's alive and magical and shifting. One of the books I bought collects Cornell's recordings of his dreams and one was: "March 3, 1944. Dream of going back to Nyack seeing school as the palace I made of mirrors it was like the Plaza only seen as a front facade resplendent in the sunlight."
In the exhibit I wrote down a few things that I will just add in here..
In one display case there was a little box called Little Memories of the Ballet, with tiny bits of ephemera inside--some pearls, bits of barrettes, etc--and a fragment of Cornell's writing describing it: "Into a souvenier case guarding its sealed treasure of costume fragments from 'La Spectre de la Rose'--how explain the intrusion of bejewelled and faded tokens of a ballerina of an earlier day, scented with a renegade blonde hairpin loosened from the chevelure of some Cinderella in her midnight haste... Reward'"
Here is part of the description for one box: "A jewelry box adds preciousness to Cornell's interpretation of the legend that Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni kept an imitation ice cube with her jewels to commemorate dancing in the snow for a Russian highwayman.." It went on to talk about Cornell watching the trains at Grand Central Station, seeing men unloading ice at night and everything transforming into what seemed like a fairy world, with the lights and ice.
Also: "In the late 30's a chance encounter with cages tropical birds displayed against a pet shop's stark white walls made such a 'dazzling' impression that Cornell believed it changed his way of seeing the 'simplicity of magic' in the everyday."
So I bought six books on Cornell and read three of the very short ones yesterday morning, one of which was Charles Simic's reflections on the artist. Here's just one bit I liked:
THE MOON IS THE SORCERER'S HELPER
As the curtain goes up we see a forest with tall, fantastic trees. It is night. There's a moon half hidden by the clouds. Blue mist drifts through the trees. The forest is a place in which everything your heart desires and fears lives.
"Blue is the color of your hair," said Schwitters. He walked into a forest near Hanover and found there half of a toy train engine, which he then used in one of his collages.
Beauty is about the improbable coming true suddenly. The great ballerina, Emma Livry, a protegee of Taglioni, for instance, died in flames while dancing the role of a night butterfly.
Anyway, so after seeing the Cornell, we walked around Salem and drank lemonade and went to the House of the Seven Gables and down by the water to see the ships, and we ate clams and oysters and scallops and shrimp and then we drove up this little windy road that goes by the ocean, through Beverly and Manchester-by-the-Sea, where we stopped in this musty old bookstore and I found Dante Rossetti's translations of Dante and his circle's lyric poems, and up to Gloucester, where we turned into this little park and looked out at lighthouses. Then we drove back to NYC and got in around 2 or 3am Saturday night, I forget. But it was a very jam-packed and wondrous just-over-24-hour-long trip. Oh and on the way to Salem we tried to stop at Walden Pond but it was rudely CLOSED.
Yesterday I read about Cornell and almost finished Out
and watched the gorgeous, devastating (very devastating) Gloomy Sunday,
which Joi raved about weeks ago but I hadn't had time to watch. I also watched an episode of Giada's Weekend Getaways
since suddenly I can only stand cooking shows. I don't like cooking but I like the words they use and just the way that someone like Giada smacks her lips and says "this is the perrrrfect way to start a Saturday, with a Nutella crepe!!" Oh and I had a new book idea for which I would have to travel all through the Midwest.
Tonight I am meeting my ex boyfriend Jim, with whom I was madly in love in college and who is visiting from Los Angeles--and who just spent the last several days in New Jersey for the U.S. Chess Open, that nerd--for dinner. We have remained close friends for over a decade now but I haven't seen him in person since 1995. So it is slightly nervewracking.
I shall end this new novel I have just composed with this photo of Eric's dad sporting the extremely fashionable t-shirt I had made for his birthday:
And here is Mark's baby Anna modelling the sweetly feminine hat I generously sent to her by mail: