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the royal flush

by Charlie Finch  

Joseph Cornell
Philips Academy yearbook

Yayoi Kusama

Howard Stern

Jerry Seinfeld

Charles Dickins

Martha's Vineyard

Robert DeNiro

   "The clever are hated and the stupid are despised." --John Lennon

We finally got around to finishing Deborah Solomon's Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

This is an irritating, unsatisfying book. While one might be grateful to Solomon for setting down the dry facts of Cornell's career, Cornell never comes to life in Solomon's portrait -- he's barely TWO-dimensional.

Aside from her overuse of adverbs like "certainly" and "surely," her love for pointless Freud-Lite rhetorical questions and her contention that the Depression ended in 1934, Solomon clearly dislikes the artist personally, condemning him primarily for "his inability to penetrate a woman," and secondarily for not wanting to travel, living with his mother and (allegedly, cf. Irving Blum) not wanting to sell his work. She finds Cornell's voyeurism and obsession with women, from Allegra Kent to Lauren Bacall, deeply disturbing.

While Solomon sketchily describes Leila Hadley successfully fellating an aging Cornell and mentions "his affair with Yayoi Kusama," Deborah totally avoids the topic that probably explains Cornell's weird female fixation -- she doesn't mention it once -- the M word, "masturbation" (and we presume she's not squeamish, her husband's a doctor!!).

While Solomon correctly denies that Cornell was gay and condemns the poor man for avoiding vaginas, she never discusses Cornell's putative onanism, a marked omission considering that masturbation is everywhere from Howard Stern to Seinfeld.

To flush out Cornell the jerker, take the paradigm of Charles Dickens' immortal Uriah Heep, whose self-pleasuring characteristics, primary and secondary, alarmed 19th-century readers on both sides of the Atlantic, kicking off a late-Victorian obsession with fresh air and manliness.

Like Uriah, Cornell developed the rubbery, concave, elongated body of a contortionist, indicative of the chronic masturbator. Solomon frequently reminds us of Cornell's addiction to sweets, his parsimoniousness and secretiveness, all Heepish indices of the thanative self-pleasurer.

Perhaps, transgressively speaking, Cornell is a pioneer -- just look through the back pages of the Village Voice or, better yet, surf the net.

Solomon agrees (rightly) with Norman Mailer that masturbation isn't sex. The majority of today's America, with Cornell, would disagree. Jerk on, Joe, wherever you are.

...."Scream Against the Sky" curator and Asia aficionado Alexandra Munro hosted a bang-up dinner reception for Hong Kong mega-dealer Johnson Chang at her Upper East Side apartment. Chang's next move: Martha's Vineyard in August, where he will be exhibiting his meal ticket, Taiwanese artist Ju Ming.

Chang confided to his hostess that the show precipitously dovetails with President Clinton's visit.

....The rumored trio of buyers of Art and Auction magazine are the publisher of the Jewish Daily Forward, financier Robert Rubin (not the Treasury Secretary) and an unnamed female third partner described as the only one of the three with any art experience.

A highly placed editorial source at the magazine told Royal Flush, "I give the Bruce Wolmer regime six months. Things are going tighten up around here fast."

....It's nice of the New Museum to contribute three dozen leering lunch-time construction workers to the SoHo summer scene ... and all of them are white males.

....Spotted on a movie date, for Flavin Judd's Repeater at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Film Center, ex (?) lovebirds Carolyn and Brooke Alexander. Longtime Brooke observers were amused when the first film on the evening's triple bill featured Buck Henry as a man who goes nuts counting sheets of white toilet paper....

....As for Repeater, it's a small gem. Filmed in economical black and white, the flick follows three sets of males (boys, men and coots) as they crisscross through time.

Lensed on Wall Street and Rockaway Beach, Repeater references Nietzsche's Eternal Law of Return, while remaining light on its feet. Good show....

"If we could clone [collector and Drawing Center chair] Werner Kramarsky, the art world would be a very different place." -- Drawing Center diva Annie Philbin in the summer "Art Schmooze 200."

If we could clone Annie Philbin, there would be no need for nuclear weapons!!

CHARLIE FINCH is the New York editor of Coagula Art Journal and has coauthored the forthcoming Most Art Sucks from Smart Art Press.