Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (New York Review Books Classics) Info

Fan Club Reviews of best titles on art fashion, artists, history, photography. Check out our top reviews and see what others have to say about the best art and photography books of the year. Check out Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (New York Review Books Classics) Community Reviews - Find out where to download Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (New York Review Books Classics) available in multiple formats:Paperback,Hardcover Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (New York Review Books Classics) Author:Charles Simic Formats:Paperback,Hardcover Publication Date:Sep 20, 2011


Now in Paperback
In Dime-Store Alchemy, poet
Charles Simic reflects on the life and work of Joseph Cornell, the
maverick surrealist who is one of America’s great artists.
Simic’s spare prose is as enchanting and luminous as the
mysterious boxes of found objects for which Cornell is justly
renowned. 

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Reviews for Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (New York Review Books Classics):

4

Aug 31, 2014

This book is excellent. It has writing about Cornell and from Cornell and inspired by Cornell. It has prose poems and references to poets and art and artists writing about art.

What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is the art itself. There are few poorly-reproduced black-and-white photos of Cornell's works, lumped together in the middle, but that's it. And Simic rarely elucidates which (if any) particular piece he is thinking of. If you, reader, are familiar with Cornell's corpus you may This book is excellent. It has writing about Cornell and from Cornell and inspired by Cornell. It has prose poems and references to poets and art and artists writing about art.

What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is the art itself. There are few poorly-reproduced black-and-white photos of Cornell's works, lumped together in the middle, but that's it. And Simic rarely elucidates which (if any) particular piece he is thinking of. If you, reader, are familiar with Cornell's corpus you may sometimes guess which piece Simic has in mind, but it would be so much lovelier if this were a lavish book with paired color plates and referenced poems (eg Dickinson's "Centuries of June," something by Rimbaud) printed out.

(Soap Bubble Set, Latitude and Longitude)

A soap bubble went to meet infinity.

So if you were looking at my status updates and thinking of reading this, do, but I have to point out that much of what I posted, especially the visuals, is not present in the book.



I pursue an image, no more.
--Gerard de Nerval ...more
5

Mar 15, 2008

?
OK. Now that I've read Dime-Store Alchemy, I'll write something.

The goodreads forum has helped me reconnect with my literary life. I've sorted through half my library and collected several dozen to donate (not enough!), but all the inspiration around here made me succumb to a latent book-buying "sickness" and I placed a few on-line orders. "Asylum Dance" had been an elusive find, so when it turned up, I placed an order and added a few more titles to get "free" shipping. When the package ?
OK. Now that I've read Dime-Store Alchemy, I'll write something.

The goodreads forum has helped me reconnect with my literary life. I've sorted through half my library and collected several dozen to donate (not enough!), but all the inspiration around here made me succumb to a latent book-buying "sickness" and I placed a few on-line orders. "Asylum Dance" had been an elusive find, so when it turned up, I placed an order and added a few more titles to get "free" shipping. When the package arrived, D-S A was a disappointment because it seemed so teeny. I paid list price and expected something bigger, with more illustrations.

Back in 1981 a friend who worked with me in the art department at NBC sent me a poster from a Cornell exhibit at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, organized under the auspices of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. I was bowled over. Imagine a 28 x 40 black background with the simple headline: "Joseph Cornell" reversed out in white. Below that floats a scrumptious 18 x 24 color reproduction of one of Cornell's finest aviary boxes. I've treasured it ever since. I've liked surrealism since high school but with Cornell's boxes I found a vulnerability and romanticism in his work I'd not found with any other artist. I was won over completely.

No bones about it, like Cornell, I'm a collector. My house is a Cornell box of memorabilia: sculpture, architectural fragments, statues, travel photos, postcards , movie posters, film reels, glass, copper, jewelry, plants, maps... all sorts of ephemera, bits and pieces of my life.

Although I loved Cornell most people didn't know about him and I felt like an outsider. Norman Rockwell is not my thing. I came across a couple books about Cornell in the early 1990's and was thrilled to learn more about the man. My favorite is still Hauptman's captivating study, "Stargazing at the Cinema". http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22... a difficult book to match.

Simic's book is completely different, not an in-depth biographical, art historical study, but a different kind of scholarship. Simic achieves the near impossible. He writes the way Cornell made his boxes. I could read a passage and close my eyes and imagine Cornell's work. It's a little pocket book to turn to at any time for a meditative boost. So the $19.95 was well worth it. Dime-Store Alchemy is a 5 x 7, eighty-two page, hardbound, navy blue linen jewel, fabricated with a silver foil-stamped title and a matte coated, four-color reproduction of the Medici Slot Machine, 1942, which is tipped into a de-bossed window, an homage to Cornell in every sense of the word.

Bless computers and the internet. Anyone can have pictures of dozens of Cornell boxes at their fingertips. I don't know what it is about Nyack but it has produced two geniuses. Edward Hopper was born there, too. ...more
5

Aug 09, 2017

A beautiful poet on a beautiful artist. I love everything about this book and recommend it to anyone interested in Cornell's work.
0

Sep 30, 2014

Dime-Store Alchemy perfectly pairs the mundane and the magical to capture Joseph Cornell's distinctive and various constructions, in boxes and otherwise. After looking at his boxes for decades, I now know their maker had the same offbeat, startling quality. The poet Charles Simic has produced a short, idiosyncratic, meditative discourse, with illustrations, on Cornell, his life on Utopia Boulevard, and his compelling enigmatic boxes.

A poet writing about an artist produces a third work of art, Dime-Store Alchemy perfectly pairs the mundane and the magical to capture Joseph Cornell's distinctive and various constructions, in boxes and otherwise. After looking at his boxes for decades, I now know their maker had the same offbeat, startling quality. The poet Charles Simic has produced a short, idiosyncratic, meditative discourse, with illustrations, on Cornell, his life on Utopia Boulevard, and his compelling enigmatic boxes.

A poet writing about an artist produces a third work of art, and so this relaxed and lovely writing is highly recommended for the triple pleasure of Cornell's constructions, Simic poetic insights, and the coming together of the two in this work.
...more
5

Jun 19, 2012

At some point my need for a solution was replaced by the poetry of my continuous failure.

-Charles Simic, "Chessboard of the Soul"
4

Jan 29, 2016

I loved learning about Joseph Cornell's surreal art. Things that are not sayable. This poetry celebrates the beautiful world that just can't be put into words - but Simic is going to use words anyway. I need to read more about Cornell.
5

Feb 19, 2013

This little book is a treasure. Being a poetry ignoramus, I had no idea how prolific and inventive a writer Charles Simic is. I read this after I had finished Utopia Parkway, a biography of Joseph Cornell. It is a beautiful coda to that book, adding breadth and a poetic appreciation, not only to Cornell's life and work, but to art's place in life.
1

Mar 14, 2018

quotable platitudes about modernism, magic, dreams, and memory

bland, ponderous descriptions of boxes, like crawling through mud when looking at the boxes themselves is like floating in air

unseemly worship of the artist and mythologizing of his supposed reclusivity

musings and prose reveries about boxes that are so unimaginative, so stilted, and so imo inaccurate that i felt several times like throwing this book across the room

i really feel like this book is an injustice to cornell’s art

how do so quotable platitudes about modernism, magic, dreams, and memory

bland, ponderous descriptions of boxes, like crawling through mud when looking at the boxes themselves is like floating in air

unseemly worship of the artist and mythologizing of his supposed reclusivity

musings and prose reveries about boxes that are so unimaginative, so stilted, and so imo inaccurate that i felt several times like throwing this book across the room

i really feel like this book is an injustice to cornell’s art

how do so many, by the way, seem to miss the humor in his work? ...more
3

Mar 18, 2015

"You don't make art, you find it. You accept everything as its material… The collage technique, that art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, is the most important innovation in the art of this century… The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized." (p 19, 'We Comprehend by Awe')

"Modernism in art and literature gave unparalleled freedom to the individual to invent his or her own world from the parts of the existing one. It "You don't make art, you find it. You accept everything as its material… The collage technique, that art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, is the most important innovation in the art of this century… The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized." (p 19, 'We Comprehend by Awe')

"Modernism in art and literature gave unparalleled freedom to the individual to invent his or her own world from the parts of the existing one. It abolished the hierarchies of beauty and allowed an assemblage of styles and openness to daily experience. Only such all-inclusive aesthetic could make sense of American reality. Cornell lived these ideas in his art." (p 25. 'Coney Island Inside Every Head')

"All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image... The city is a huge image machine. A slot machine for the solitaries. Coins of reverie, of poetry, secret passion, religious madness, it converts them all. A force illegible." (p 30, 'A Force Illegible')

"At some point my need for a solution was replaced by the poetry of my continuous failure." (p 45, 'Chessboard of the Soul')
...more
5

Mar 19, 2017

Beautiful assessment of Joseph Cornell's work made by taking a Cornell-like approach to the task: little bits here and there--Cornell's diary entries, biographical notes, observations and descriptions of Cornell's works--baubles--that, arranged just so, create a mood and impression of Cornell similar to those invoked by Cornell's shadowboxes.
5

Aug 14, 2007

simic's take on the creepy, unsettling world of joseph cornell. immediately after reading it, i wanted to go outside and collect a bunch of junk so i could put it in a box and hang it on a wall. cornell makes it look so simple, but there is a mastery to his work beyond words -- the odd combination of objects is somehow just right -- the work of a master craftsman.
4

Oct 11, 2009

This book is probably of interest only to people who like Charles Simic or Joseph Cornell. For people interested in Cornell's art, Simic is extraordinarily eloquent in his interpretation of Cornell's work. At least it resonated with me. The book is hard to classify. It is a mix of prose poems inspired by Cornell's work and mini-essays on that work. I'm going to paste my favorite passages from the book on my page. 3/09
4

Jun 27, 2008

I just loaned this to a friend. It reminded me how little I like Simic in general, but how much I enjoyed this book. A series of poems, prose poems, and other reflective pieces all centered on the life and art of Joseph Cornell. If Cornell's boxes and constructions cast a spell over you, you'll be equally enchanted with this book.

"their biographies explain nothing..." Good line. I need to pass it out to every undergrad I ever have.
4

Aug 31, 2012

Charles Simic can do no wrong for me personally but my enjoyment of this book was exceptional since I was expecting to only be able to find dry biographies on Joseph Cornell--it turns out there's a slight, readable series of meditations by one of my very favorite authors. Beautiful. Beautiful. Jonathan Safran-Foer did something vaguely similar as well. What was that called? A Convergence of Birds. Yeah. That was really good too, but that was a compilation of lots of authors.
4

Jan 06, 2010

I can't believe I forgot this one. It's one of my favorite Simic books...partly because it's also about Cornell...another favorite, but the poems in here bring Cornell to life. Little fictions. And if you aren't familiar with Simic's work (but if you're a reader of the NY Rev. of Books, you'll have seen how smart his essays are), also look at his collections of essays, all through the Univ of Mich. Press, Poets on Poetry series.
5

Dec 31, 2011


Simic is a terrific poet. Cornell's boxes are great. Psychogeography. Transience. Maps of dreams. Explorations. The reticence and magic spaces you get in in -f'rinstance -the music of Augustus Pablo are present in this work. Same way they are in Cornell's boxes. The ear and the eye hear and see...the mind connects what's seen and heard and read. Trust me -a terrific, and terrifically short- book.
5

Feb 28, 2016

Wonderful poetry and prose cocktail to be paired with Cornell's work. Like others I wished an edition of this work had been published with photographs of each work it was inspired by. Simic not only pulls out the poetic nature of selected pieces, but the meaning of his body of work as a whole. "The world is beautiful, but not sayable. That's why we need art."

It's a fine collection that I know will encourage me to revisit both artist and poet's work more frequently.
4

Mar 20, 2012

Recently revived by the New York Review of Books, Dime-Store Alchemy pairs two kindred spirits, MacArthur grant winning poet Charles Simic and influential outsider artist Joseph Cornell, in a sublime work of miniaturized magic. Bypassing cumbersome analysis, Simic shoots instead for a kind of literary parallel to Cornell’s own enigmatic artistic methods: assembling seemingly disparate images and impressions, plucked quotations and fragments of biography, into elegant pawnshop puzzles just Recently revived by the New York Review of Books, Dime-Store Alchemy pairs two kindred spirits, MacArthur grant winning poet Charles Simic and influential outsider artist Joseph Cornell, in a sublime work of miniaturized magic. Bypassing cumbersome analysis, Simic shoots instead for a kind of literary parallel to Cornell’s own enigmatic artistic methods: assembling seemingly disparate images and impressions, plucked quotations and fragments of biography, into elegant pawnshop puzzles just begging to be unpacked. ...more
4

Jan 22, 2016

Simic alternated between immersion in the art of Cornell with fascinating stories from Cornell's life. The structure is essentially prose poems one or two pages long. Really enjoyable page by page.

[excerpt]
The Magic Study of Happiness

In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a Simic alternated between immersion in the art of Cornell with fascinating stories from Cornell's life. The structure is essentially prose poems one or two pages long. Really enjoyable page by page.

[excerpt]
The Magic Study of Happiness

In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a neighbor.
...
[end excerpt] ...more
5

Mar 05, 2012

Simic writes so well, that I have a new found interest of Cornell. All writers are influenced by the world, but Simic has picked one subject that had influence over his ideas of creativity and concentrated the energy brought on by Cornell's work- studying the influence to breed a brand new body of work. Part historical study, part dual biography and part poetry, this book encapsulates the theory of duet performance and conversation that comes when one artist decides to have a collaboration with Simic writes so well, that I have a new found interest of Cornell. All writers are influenced by the world, but Simic has picked one subject that had influence over his ideas of creativity and concentrated the energy brought on by Cornell's work- studying the influence to breed a brand new body of work. Part historical study, part dual biography and part poetry, this book encapsulates the theory of duet performance and conversation that comes when one artist decides to have a collaboration with another who has no damn idea that he orshe would be a part of another body of work, posthumously. Reverent and provocative at the same time. Good show. ...more
4

Oct 18, 2011

In all ways a beautiful little book. Speculative, no doubt, but who better to do speculative that Charles Simic? And he was clearly inspired by his choice of topic. I think I'll never look at a Cornell piece again without thinking more deeply about it after reading this book. Perhaps even other art works as well. And that, I assume, is what Simic is after here. Both an homage to an artist he admires, and an example of a different art criticism. Not so much interested in the universal ways to In all ways a beautiful little book. Speculative, no doubt, but who better to do speculative that Charles Simic? And he was clearly inspired by his choice of topic. I think I'll never look at a Cornell piece again without thinking more deeply about it after reading this book. Perhaps even other art works as well. And that, I assume, is what Simic is after here. Both an homage to an artist he admires, and an example of a different art criticism. Not so much interested in the universal ways to explain a piece or oeuvre, more interested in how it can inspire the individual to think, live, and maybe even create for themselves.

I think Joseph Cornell would be flattered. ...more
3

Jul 29, 2015

Joseph Cornell is one of my favourite artists and I love poetry, so I pounced on this book when I saw it in Foyles. It combines some biographical information with snippets from Cornell's journal and poetic musings on his shadow boxes. It contextualises him within Surrealism and draws out the poetic nature of Cornell's work. I wish that this had been a bigger book; I wanted more beautiful illustrations, more poetry inspired by his boxes, more extracts from Cornell's writing. I wanted to know more Joseph Cornell is one of my favourite artists and I love poetry, so I pounced on this book when I saw it in Foyles. It combines some biographical information with snippets from Cornell's journal and poetic musings on his shadow boxes. It contextualises him within Surrealism and draws out the poetic nature of Cornell's work. I wish that this had been a bigger book; I wanted more beautiful illustrations, more poetry inspired by his boxes, more extracts from Cornell's writing. I wanted to know more about this enigmatic and elusive man. I liked Simic's poetry, but didn't love it. However, if you're a Cornell fan, it will be a worthy addition to your library. ...more
4

Oct 25, 2011

The art of Joseph Cornell is some of the most beautiful and mysterious in American history. Classified as a surrealist, Cornell is also a fetishist, icon-maker, an illusionist, and a magician. His boxes seem to have one foot in the realm of pawn-shops, junk dealers, dollar stores, old bookshops and the other foot in the supernatural realms of dreams. Charles Simic's poetry captures both the effect and some of the meaning that Cornell has on the viewer, both re-interpreting the artist and The art of Joseph Cornell is some of the most beautiful and mysterious in American history. Classified as a surrealist, Cornell is also a fetishist, icon-maker, an illusionist, and a magician. His boxes seem to have one foot in the realm of pawn-shops, junk dealers, dollar stores, old bookshops and the other foot in the supernatural realms of dreams. Charles Simic's poetry captures both the effect and some of the meaning that Cornell has on the viewer, both re-interpreting the artist and providing other examples to follow, as well as looking at the artist's own life and words to see what keys they provide to unlock his secrets. Fans of poetry will find an introduction to an artist who shares their methods and concerns. Fans of art will find a poet who interprets art in a delicious, sensual, and enlightening way. A rich amalgam of both worlds for a reader to explore. You'll come away with a new vision. ...more
4

Mar 10, 2012

Simic, a poet, wrote this thoughtful appreciation of Cornell’s life work in 1992, some twenty years after Cornell passed away in a house in Bayside, Queens, that the artist had longed lived in on Utopia Parkway with his mother and brother. Cornell built boxes that contained found objects arranged for display within the boxes. Ignorant of Cornell’s life, work and residence, I ran by his house pretty regularly in the last two years of his life, the late teens of mine, heading up Utopia toward the Simic, a poet, wrote this thoughtful appreciation of Cornell’s life work in 1992, some twenty years after Cornell passed away in a house in Bayside, Queens, that the artist had longed lived in on Utopia Parkway with his mother and brother. Cornell built boxes that contained found objects arranged for display within the boxes. Ignorant of Cornell’s life, work and residence, I ran by his house pretty regularly in the last two years of his life, the late teens of mine, heading up Utopia toward the Throgs Neck Bridge. Utopia Parkway is a tree-lined multiple lane avenue, not a closed parkway like the Hutchinson or Jackie Robinson. I can see myself building a box of my own with a faded Polaroid of me in running shirt and shorts, pair of Addidas shoes, maybe a quote in Latin from Thomas More and whatever a sojourn on the Parkway might yield.

A fan of the surrealists, Cornell had an expansive mind but a local range of wandering. Virtually all of his adult life was spent in the metropolitan area. He trained into Manhattan for work and for art and for the sheer sake of curiosity. From these wanderings, however, he constructed a richly imaginative world of associations that brought together past and present, local and global, words and images, things and thingamabobs in finely constructed, artificially aged box display cases.

Simic divided this small book (not quite 80 pages) into three parts, with each part made up of tiny titled chapters of a paragraph or three, a half page, a full page, a page and a third in length. You can imagine the book as a prose version of a Cornel box, or perhaps each part is a box or each chapter is a Cornellian box. It doesn’t much matter one way or the other but it’s pleasant to think along those line and to visiualize Simic’s beautiful prose. Some chapters describe particular boxes of Cornell’s; others link the writer and the artist together around an interest, an observation, something found. “We comprehend by awe,” is one chapter title. It begins, “Whitman, too, saw poetry everywhere. In 1912 Apollinaire spoke of a new source of inspiration: ‘Prospectuses, catalogues, posters, advertisements of all sorts’ which contain the poetry of our age. The history of the idea is familiar and so are its heroes, Picasso, Arp, Duchamp, Schwitters, Ernst—to name only a few. You don’t make art, you find it. You accept everything as material.” It also offers this, “The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized.” Simic has written a sublime recognition of Cornell and his work. ...more
2

Jan 31, 2019

It’s beautifully written, that’s for sure, but sometimes, I just felt Simic simply mixed some random words together for no reason at all...but eh, I guess it’s some homage to Cornell’s art? Still, I’m glad to be done with this book.

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