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Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell
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Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  1,296 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
No artist ever led a stranger life than Joseph Cornell, the self-taught American genius prized for his disquieting shadow boxes, who stands at the intersection of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop art. Legends about Cornell abound--as the shy hermit, the devoted family caretaker, the artistic innocent--but never before "Utopia Parkway" has he been presented for wh ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published November 2nd 2004 by MFA Publications
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Biography is something I very rarely take up in my reading (I much prefer memoirs, or personal diaries and journals whenever possible), and it's even more rare for me to actually read a biography all the way through, usually opting instead to read chapters or sections specific to my interests.

I had fully expected this to be more or less my experience with Utopia Parkway, currently the only biography available on the life of nonconformist artist Joseph Cornell, whose work I have become increasin
Mar 03, 2008 Monica rated it it was amazing
Ruth, if you're interested in plates, this is *not* the book; which doesn't mean the text isn't good, I haven't read it. A captivating book with superb plates is this

July 9, 2011- Utopia Parkway is a deeply moving book that took Deborah Solomon seven years to write and I must say I could have gone on reading it forever. I was apprehensive because of rumors about her writing style being sensationalist and she recently lost her job at the NYTimes after some
Feb 06, 2013 Trina rated it it was amazing
This biography of Cornell was hard for me to get into, but once I did I found it thought-provoking and very affecting, because Cornell's life was so very strange and his work so simple yet mysterious. Deborah Solomon is a knowledgeable art critic and biographer, and she tells Cornell's story with great sympathy. Warning, this book has very low-resolution black and white images, and not very many. After I finished this I read Charles Simic's Dime-Store Alchemy, which is a lovely evocation of Corn ...more
Pamela Bloodworth
Nov 21, 2008 Pamela Bloodworth rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about Joseph Cornell. Interesting insight into the New York art world of the fifties and sixties. It is hard to believe that Joseph Cornell received recognition within the art community in his lifetime. Without self promotion, I doubt that that would happen now. Since I find obsessive personalities interesting, I found this book hard to put down.
Becky Isett
Dec 07, 2007 Becky Isett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists, historians, crazies
Joseph Cornell is insane which is why I wanted to read his biography. This biography reads more like a story, relying more on narrative and description than facts like dates and so forth. I'm not big on biographies, but this was really easy to enjoy and gave a lot of information about where his art originated.
I enjoyed this bio very much. I've had the opportunity to see much of Cornell's work in various museum shows, and so I was happy to discover the "back story" of this artist and his somewhat insular world of Utopia Parkway.
Feb 20, 2008 Ruth rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Ginnie, Nathalie
Shelves: art
I saw this in the bookstore at the Orange Co Museum of Art today. Definitely something I want, as soon as I gear up to the $65 price tag.
Ali Hammoud
Dec 26, 2016 Ali Hammoud rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utopia Parkway: the Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, could be by far the best biography of an artist I have ever read and that due to a number of reasons. At first hand, Deborah Solomon, an art critic, journalist, and biographer did a marvelous work transcribing the life of Joseph Cornell so close that the reader feels living under his skin. Her writing is so detailed, one would find himself/herself in high anticipation from chapter to another. She has skillfully weaved together facts, anecdote, ...more
An amazing story. Can't wait to discuss with my book club members.
Aug 27, 2011 Kathleen added it
Shelves: art, biography
Not quite finished (p. 364) -- Cornell made art out of things he collected, & I am beginning to do the same. We talked about him briefly in April's collage class at LeMoyne Gallery (class ended Sunday). Kurt Schwitters is considered the essential modern collagist, with Cornell right behind. Reading this makes me aware of the definitions (does anybody care?): Collage is two-dimensional pasting & maybe layering of cut-out images, either drawn or found. Decoupage gets three-dimensional, thi ...more
Feb 25, 2010 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
Solomon dedicated 7 years to this biography. The result is patient and thorough rendering of Joseph Cornell's life and work (hence the title). Driven, adored, and hassled by his mother and filial obligations, Joseph channeled his libidinal energies into his romantic boxes, collages, and relic artworks. His adulation of woman foretold by his mother's attentions and Christian Science following forbade sexual experience until his sixties. Never a selfish artist, he could hardly part with his boxes ...more
Jun 30, 2014 David rated it really liked it
Joseph Cornell, for all his reticence (may he forgive me that judgement), met a remarkable number of the 20th century's creative people, from Marianne Moore to Robert Rauschenberg to Susan Sontag to Andy Warhol, and all of these connections are documented in Deborah Solomon's fine biography and assessment of the work. Cornell was a part of, and stood apart from, several disparate movements in the art world: the Surrealists, the (largely forgotten) neo-Romantics, the Ab Ex crowd, the Minimalists, ...more
Tim Goebel
Jan 19, 2014 Tim Goebel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish that I could count this toward my reading challenge for 2014, but this is a reread for me (a threepeat even).

I have always been fascincated by outsiders, loners, eccentrics with a need to express themselves and create.

Joseph Cornell fits into that category for me. Basically creating his own medium, with an art career that spanned multiple decades and art movements, this repressed, old-fashioned, middle class man with crushing family pressures and a glum, stark even, everyday life had the
Mar 11, 2012 Amy rated it did not like it
Being a recent initiate into the brilliance of Joseph Cornell's work, It was with baited breath that I waited by my mailbox for this book to arrive. Finally, it was delivered- such a pretty cover! Such a marvelous title!- and then- oh dear. Here you have a very nice-looking academic woman prattling off a list of things having to do with some guy named Joseph Cornell; basically, making boring and dull that which is infinitely fascinating.This book feels like an assignment from an editor. Or worse ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic biography. It took me many months to finish (because I have very little time for casual reading with a toddler around these days), but I never lost interest. Biographies are not my favorite kinds of books -- I usually get bored quickly. But this one is top-notch. I am already a huge fan of Cornell's work, of course otherwise I would have not read this. Solomon is thorough, but best of all she understands Cornell. Her account of him is compassionate, fair, understated, and mov ...more
Oct 07, 2009 Lizzie rated it really liked it
I liked this book for how it told the story of how an outsider became, to some extent, an insider: a self-taught artist making collages and assemblages who ended up exhibiting at major museums, in his lifetime. I also liked how it traced his artistic development and looked into what motivated him to make his art, as much as that can be understood. On the other hand, Cornell was genuinely strange and this depicted that very clearly. I was a little uncomfortable reading about whether he was a virg ...more
Mar 15, 2007 courtney rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of biography, and art.
no matter how interesting the subject, i often become anxious when reading a biography. i want to plow through the boring bits about childhood troubles or contract negotiations, and get straight to the juice. with this book, it was different. perhaps this is because i am fairly enamoured with the art of joseph cornell, its subject - but it could also be because this book is incredibly well written. it presents the facts of cornell's life, work, and his journey from unknown to art history in a ma ...more
Aug 19, 2007 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes a good read
i'm a slow reader [hence the long list of things that are on my current reading list] unless i really like something & so far i really like this books' writting style. being interested in the subject goes w/o saying since i'm a collage artist, but aside from that vested interest, i think that cornell is a facinating subject for both the artist & non artist having read this book through, i would recomend it to those looking for a good read, providing that you have the stoma ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
I love Joseph Cornell's work and this biography was full of fascinating details about his childhood, his relationships, and his work life. I learned about his brief collaboration with filmmaker Stan Brakhage, his six-month infatuation with Susan Sontag (loved the moment when he sent an assistant to retrieve a box he had given her as a gift), and his rather odd friendship with actor Tony Curtis. His passions: birds, movie stars, ballerinas, dime store toys and trinkets, French poetry...I also lov ...more
Oct 16, 2008 Chadwick rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I wish I could rate this book more favorably, but in order to do that it would have to somehow be capable of crossing the boundary between our world and the world of inscrutable, intensely personal mystery in which Cornell lived and worked. So view these four stars not as a judgment upon Solomon's thorough research and clean, self-aware prose, but upon the futility of attempting a critical biography of one of the most mysterious 20th century artists.
Bill Wells
Mar 07, 2016 Bill Wells rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A well written, insightful book. I had read some other things about Cornell. but this book really explains the kind of man he was and his relation to the art world of the times. His exploration of film was particularly interesting as were his varied friendships with other artists. I have to say that in the end his life seemed strange and somewhat depressing to me, where his work is beautifully poetic.
Sylvia Tedesco
Nov 16, 2010 Sylvia Tedesco rated it really liked it
A dense, rich biography of the American artist Joseph Cornell. Thanks to Barbara or Ruth who mentioned they were reading it. I went back on Goodreads to find exactly WHO recommended it and couldn't locate. However, this is a fascinating read about an unusual man and family. The author also does a beautiful job of analyzing the artworks of Cornell and others.
Jun 01, 2008 Liz rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: artists, poets, collectors of junk
Shelves: biography
A fascinating biography of my favorite artist. You can see
"Suzy's Sun (for Judy Tyler)" at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh:
Very careful, contemplative, well written biography of a quiet American artist who associated with various artistic movements but was never really a part of any of them. Insightful comments on the mid-century New York art scene. Melancholic and beautiful.
Feb 12, 2009 Lauren rated it really liked it
always fascinating to read about really really weird people. joseph cornell is for sure one of the greatest american artists, a visionary and savant. after reading this book i wish i could have another look at the wonderful retrospective that was at the sfmoma last year.
Sep 11, 2007 Kimley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, biography
One of my favorite artists! After reading this book, everytime I go to Union Square Park I imagine Mr. Cornell filming his beloved pigeons.
Jun 12, 2010 Lori rated it really liked it
This is an excellent window into the life of Cornell, some of the most haunting art ever made. And a wonder filled description of his melancholy sweetness.
Nov 09, 2012 Marsmannix rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
OUTSTANDING book about the shy reclusive genius Joseph Cornell and how he transformed the art scene. Touching, detailed and full of history. A must for any art lover.
Mar 10, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 1998 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Jul 31, 2009 Lora rated it really liked it
This biography of Joseph Cornell is very interesting. I am curious to see how he becomes a renowned artist with the childhood and adolescence that he had.
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Deborah Solomon (born August 9, 1957, New York City) is an American art critic, journalist and biographer. She writes primarily for The New York Times and her weekly column, "Questions For," ran in The New York Times Magazine from 2003 to 2011. Her art reviews appear on WNYC Radio.

Solomon was born in New York City and grew up in New Rochelle, New York. Her parents, Jerry and Sally Solomon, owned a
More about Deborah Solomon...

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