Every Box a Poem

It was not until he was in his late fifties that Cornell acted on his incessant fantasies about women. In the liberated Sixties, he had his first sexual explorations with several young women, although he found early on that he was impotent and could not have intercourse. One collage in the exhibition Untitled (Seated Nude with Basket, reflects his late blooming: a picture of a seated naked woman in a magazine ad against a sublime landscape. While it reveals something about the artist's personal life, compared to the artist's other work the piece is unremarkable.

In the last years of his life Cornell was often depressed. His career was lauded by a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1967, but that didn't cheer him much. His mother and brother had died several years earlier. Sporadically he had assistants live with him, but he was often alone in the house, a sad, almost ghostly figure lost in his reminiscences. He died peacefully on the living-room couch, a few days after his birthday. He was cremated and his remains were placed in a small wooden box that happened to be about the same size of one of his own works of art.

Joseph Cornell: Boxes and Collages
Through May 4 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S Olive Ave, West Palm Beach; 561-832-5196.

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