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Joseph Cornell and American Modernism: Inside the Center with Marci Kwon


Please join us for a book talk by Marci Kwon, a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center for 2020–21.

Joseph Cornell (1903–1972) is best known for his exquisite and alluring box constructions, in which he transformed found objects—such as celestial charts, glass ice cubes, and feathers—into enchanted worlds that blur the boundaries between fantasy and the commonplace. Art historian and Humanities Center fellow Marci Kwon will discuss her new book, Enchantments: Joseph Cornell and American Modernism, an innovative and interdisciplinary account that reveals enchantment’s relevance to the history of American mid-century American art.

Kwon explores Cornell’s attempts to convey enchantment—an ephemeral experience that exceeds rational explanation—in material form. Examining his box constructions, graphic design projects, and cinematic experiments, she shows how he turned to formal strategies drawn from movements like Transcendentalism and Romanticism to figure the immaterial. Spanning four decades of the artist’s career, Enchantments sheds critical light on Cornell’s engagement with key episodes in American modernism, from Abstract Expressionism, 1930s “folk art,” and the emergence of New York School poetry and experimental cinema to the transatlantic migration of Symbolism, Surrealism, and ballet. Cornell’s participation in these varied milieus elucidates enchantment’s centrality to midcentury conversations about art’s potential for power and moral authority, and reveals how enchantment and modernity came to be understood as opposing forces.


Marci Kwon is assistant professor of art and art history at Stanford, where she focuses on the art and culture of the United States. Her research and teaching interests include the intersection of fine art and vernacular practice, theories of modernism, cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, "folk" and "self-taught" art, and issues of race and objecthood.

At Stanford, Kwon is a faculty affiliate of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Asian American Studies, African and African American Studies, American Studies, the Center for East Asia, and Feminist and Gender Studies, and serves on the steering committee of Modern Thought and Literature. Together with Aleesa Alexander, she co-directs the Cantor Art Center's Asian American Art Initiative. She is the recipient of the Asian American Studies Faculty Prize, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity Teaching Award, and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021. 11:00AM




Stanford Humanities Center



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