Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When The Curtain Never Comes Down. American Folk Art Museum

  The first thing that comes over me when I see a show of outsider art is sadness, for the terrible lives that most of these creative souls have led. Isolation, insanity, incarceration, hospitalization, homelessness poverty and more. I also feel anxiety but then I am overtaken by a serious sense of joy and exuberance for what they created and what they have (if lucky) left behind for us to treasure and love.
            The wonderful American Folk Art Museum which in its original tight and small space near Lincoln Center now has on view one of the best exhibitions of outsider art that I’ve seen in a long time “When The Curtain Never Comes Down”, it’s title can also be seen as a bitter retort to the behemoth Museum Of Modern Art which after buying the building from the debt ridden Folk Art Museum criminally tore down its striking barely 12 year old building which had the misfortune to find itself next door and in the way of the constantly expanding and critically under sieged Moma. I won’t go on about my anger and dislike for the Moma, I’ll save that for another time and another place, because I am here to celebrate this most marvelous exhibition.
   Beautifully and intelligently curated byValerie Rousseau who by the way might be my favorite curator of the moment. The exhibition fills every nook and cranny of this intimate (some might say cramped) space with many jaw dropping and magnificent pieces made by a wide range of outsiders from the 19th century to the present.   
Many of the works have religious, spiritual and visionary themes, (this is a favorite obsession among many outsiders) and the show includes great pieces. Palmerino Sorgente who became convinced that he was the Pope concocted an amazing array of Papal this and Papal that including a series of hats that are covered in found jewelry and gems along with fantastic collages, drawings made with nail polish and books.
Also in the show are two immense very theatrical and impressive bright red sculptures made of wood strips, one of a house and the other of a cross cut saw that were created for use in strange religious healing ceremonies by a grass roots southern spiritual church called the Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple that are as compelling and brilliant as anything you will see this spring in galleries or any where else.
Theatrical is also one of the themes of this show, (again the title says much) and a large group of works are comprised of superb costumes and clothes that were sometimes worn by their creators in their everyday lives or were used in personal street like performances. Some of the great ones include clothing that work as sculptures by Vahan Poladian and the extraordinary clothes made by Giuseppe Versino while he was boarded away in an Italian Insane Asylum. Made from rags and such that he tore apart and rewove and braided to make these gray and textural clothes that a Golem or Frankenstein’s monster would love. These are arguably the most compelling and important works in the show.
I also loved the sophisticated superbly knitted clothes and masks by the great master knitter Deborah Berger who died young and left behind these bold and colorful majestic works. Also adored by me were the very small intricate carved stone sculptures numbering in the 100’s by Jean Loubressanes of figures, animals and buildings that look like they were excavated from some fantastic unknown culture but would also be comfortable in one of the Egyptian or Roman wings at the Met, and the rough and magical wooden constructions by Hans Krusi. There is of course much more to thrill and chill you if you get to see this swell show that happily will be up until July 5th. I intend to see it again as there was way too much for me to take in and digest at one viewing and I have to admit that I bypassed the many tapes and videos that hopefully I can see and hear on my next viewing.
A nice side dish to this show is the wonderful but small show of drawings by the great self taught Mexican-American artist Martin Ramirez now on at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in Chelsea. Ramirez spent most of his life in a California state hospital where he discovered a strong love for art and made nearly 500 complex pencil and crayon drawings on brown paper bags, examining-table paper, and book pages glued together with a paste made of potatoes and saliva that are among the great works of outsider art. This week Ramirez has become the first Outsider and Mexican American artist to have his art featured on USPS stamps, which makes for a nice way to own his work if you don’t happen to have $400,000 to spare.


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