- Children's Stories and "Child-Time" in the Works of Joseph Cornell and the Transatlantic Avant-Garde
Analisa Leppanen-Guerra's book outlines Joseph Cornell's relationship to and role in the transatlantic avant-garde and, more specifically, the surrealist movement. While she does seek to clarify Cornell's role as a surrealist artist, her evaluation predominantly details how the artist sought to situate his audience in a childlike state. Leppanen-Guerra maps out Cornell's belief that childhood and a childlike identity present a transcendent way to escape a bourgeois lifestyle. She explores his "Box-Constructions," "Collages," "Museum-like Pieces," and "Book-Objects," adapting a multitude of children's stories. Using both visual images and description, Leppanen-Guerra describes how Cornell's work disrupts the regular linear structure of the children's texts he adapted, presenting an idealized view of childhood by recreating Child-Time for his audience. Leppanen-Guerra describes Child-Time as "closer to spatial and temporal models of dreams—seemingly irrational, fluid, often open-ended, but operating along its own logic, using elliptical, rather than linear, patterns" (6). This concept is crucial to her consideration of Cornell's work, because much of her evaluation seeks to outline how he recreated a child's experience of time for his audience. In addition to detailing Cornell's art, much of her text contemplates the children's tales that inspired his [End Page 509] work. Consequently, this book would be of interest to those researching representations of childhood and children, as well as those considering adaptations of children's literature. The text is also worth considering for its representation of gender identities. As Leppanen-Guerra notes, Cornell's art often depicts an androgynous child character. While she does not spend much time delving into the significance or implications of depicting androgynous characters, she does point out where these images appear and outlines how both sexes have been incorporated into a singular character. As such, this book might be of interest to those considering children's gendered identities as well as child sexuality within surrealist art.
Following an introduction that outlines Cornell's biography, the book is divided into seven chapters, each corresponding to a different childhood text or literary experience adapted by Cornell or inspiring his work. Using Cornell's artistic muses as a means to structure her own book, Leppanen-Guerra begins with the ABCs and moves on to "The Little Mermaid," The Little Prince, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Beauty and the Beast," and "Sleeping Beauty." Each chapter, in addition to considering specific children's texts, evaluates a specific style or project Cornell engaged with as he explored Child-Time and transcendence. Her text cleverly explores Cornell's complex thought process and allusions to various artists, literary works, and artistic artifacts while comparing him to other artists of his time. She also clearly highlights his idolization of childhood, outlining his conceptual construction of a child's identity. As Leppanen-Guerra notes, much of Cornell's art engages and interacts with its audience, encouraging them to partake in play and exploration. Despite her detailed consideration of this interactive aspect of his work, however, at times her text does not clearly capture the mechanical process of his pieces. While Leppanen-Guerra does seek to describe and show images of his work, a visual representation or depiction of its interactive quality would have helped to solidify how Cornell's art breaks with linear order and creates an interactive piece that reflects Child-Time.
The first chapter, "ABCs: The Classroom," begins by comparing the wordplay found in Cornell's art to the ways in which children and adults differ in their approaches to language. Leppanen-Guerra draws on the story of the Sandman as a means to explore and delve into Cornell's conceptually-centered Box-Constructions, which seek to question the stable boundaries of language and educational systems. This chapter, in addition to exploring how his Box-Constructions engaged with the concept of gendered language, compares his work with that of...