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April 12, 2007

Karoline von Günderode is not a name you'd expect to pop up in modern art—she was a minor German Romantic poet. Her history, however, is fascinating, marked by fatal longing. After being refused romantically by the philologist Friedrich Creuzer, von Günderode succumbed to suicide. She was immortalized by her friend Bettina Brentano, who compiled and published their correspondence with the poet's verse.

I recently spotted the poet's name in a piece by Meret Oppenheim: Caroline, an art book made in tribute to the German Romantic poet, a 2000 piece recently on view at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.

Entries from the Joseph Cornell Papers online collection are among the top hits for a Google search for von Günderode. Cornell's files of source materials include a pair of folders titled "Brocehet Caroline de Gunderode" [sic]—von Günderode's bracelet. But that seemingly concrete reference doesn't tell us much about how Cornell viewed the poet. The clips inside the file are a cryptic miscellany, the kind that the magpie artist collected: among notes and other bits, there's a photograph of an egg yolk, an image of a woman holding a deer, a Longfellow poem, and an encyclopedia entry on von Günderode.

I'm unable to make a lot of sense out of these. I can't be sure whether the etcetera are meant to evoke an imagistic portrait of von Günderode, her work, or something else entirely. I don't recognize any of these elements from Cornell's completed works, (though it would be quite a scavenger hunt to track down a specific visual reference in a Cornell exhibition). Nevertheless, puzzling over Cornell's scraps and snippets is is a puzzle in itself—I have the works as a clue, and I'm trying to discover how and why he pieced together the references.

Incidentally, this process resembles the challenge in piecing together details about von Günderode's life. It turns out that Bettina Brentano was not a reliable narrator: She forged parts of her published dialog with von Günderode.

The Joseph Cornell exhibit is now closed at SAAM but will travel to Peabody Essex (April 28, 2007—August 19, 2007) and SFMOMA (October 6, 2007—January 6, 2008).

Posted by Kriston on April 12, 2007 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here


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