Playing catch up with myself today, I went to two museums and two plays (check out my theater log for more), after doing my tour for an especially exuberant group at New York Historical Society.
Happily, the American Folk Art Museum has righted itself in its small Lincoln Center space. The current show on William Matthew Prior demonstrates how style can be an artist choice. As I type that statement, it seems obvious and a little silly. But folk artists are accused of naïveté and lack of skill, hardly the foundation for choosing style.
Pryor’s background is not very clear, but he studied with or at least saw works by Gilbert Stuart. Look at his copy of Stuart’s dollar bill George Washington of 1850 and compare it to his “folk” version about two years later. He obviously can paint in an Academic manner, so why paint the flattened, unfinished looking work after the more polished?
Copy of Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington,” 1850 Folk version, c1852
At Winterthur, I would interpret this decision due to meeting customer demand. The folk style was preferred in rural areas, even by wealthy patrons. They wanted to differentiate themselves from the polished, slick urban patron and art style. The folk art show doesn’t give us this interpretation, but I think it fits.
Pryor made 1500 portraits. So he had a big business. I would say the notable democratization of his subjects, including painting African Americans, is well represented in the small show. They also include a portrait of William Miller, who found followers for his beliefs, all part of the 19th Century Great Revival of religious spiritualism. Millerism was all about the Second Coming of Christ, which also meant the end of the world. Millerists believed the end would occur between March 1843 and March 1844. Well…
This show is thoughtful and small, making a perfect lunch-time outing or an easy visit if you’re catching something at Lincoln Center. Not far away is the oh-so-cool Museum of Arts and Design. Each show there now is a breath taker.
In Against the Grain, some big names are part, making awesome wood pieces. Al Wei Wei contributes “Grapes,” featuring a cluster of stools. He’s interested in. Chinese history and links the image to the Qing Dynasty and its compromised functionality, like these stools.
Bettye Saar is there with her Mammies and “Herstory,” contrasting real and manufactured black women. And Hope Sandrow’s chicken coops, which I saw on one of Justin Ferrate’s tours, has arrived, with video, at MAD.
Willie Cole worked with a chicken, too, here enormous. The sculpture is an homage to Malcolm X, who reportedly said, “the chickens are coming home to roost,” after JFK’s assassination. Notice that the piece is made out of matches, waiting to catch fire, as well as brooms and marbles.
And video has made it to fine craft. “Traffic” by Hunt Clark includes two video projections of traffic onto a shell-like form. Pretty mesmerizing, eh?
In the Playing with Fire of glass works, Tim Tate has inserted a tiny video camera in his ‘bell jar’, which both records and displays, mirror-like, the viewer. So now my looking and looking at the piece from all angles has been recorded, becoming part of the work “I Want to Run Away and Join the Circus.” Too bad I couldn’t capture an image of that for you.
Karen LaMonte’s “Dress 7” is crafted from kiln cast glass. Stunning, isn’t it? I was really into bodies made of glass–look at Steve Tobin’s 1991 “Torso”!
Technology shows up in the jewelry show, too. The wave form from a recorded sneeze, a yawn, and ‘wow’ are transferred into the shapes of jewelry. Elegant pins actually, which hopefully you can make out in this video. Turn the volume up.
As a fitting closure to the museum visits, the last show, After the Museum, features a folk art portrait, with its questions about the future of museums. After my visits, I would say, the future is bright indeed.
More cool things from MAD. By the way, they actually encourage taking pictures!