A P U B L I C AT I O N O F I N T U I T : T H E C E N T E R F O R I N T U I T I V E A N D O U T S I D E R A R T
The portraitist Lee Godie crafted an artistic identity to go with her art
V O L U M E 1 3 | I S S U E 2 | FA L L 0 8
Origin unknown When thereâ€™s anonymity, art speaks for itself
Brew mastery The revival of Houstonâ€™s Beer Can House
136 NEVER BEFORE
IMAGES AVAILABLE OCTOBER 2008
Untitled (Vertical Tunnel with Train) c.1960-63 Mixed media on paper 35 x 22 1/2 inches; 89 x 57 cm © Estate of Martín Ramírez
MARTÍN RAMÍREZ OCTOBER 2–NOVEMBER 29, 2008 Catalogue available: 160 pages Martín Ramírez: The Last Works 136 full-color illustrations Ricco/Maresca Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Estate of Martín Ramírez.
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EDITOR Janet Franz ART DIRECTION & D E S I G N Lowercase, Inc. EXECUTIVE COMMIT T E E William Swislow, President
Cheri Eisenberg, Vice President Gary Zickel, Treasurer Susann Craig, Secretary Gary Fine, Communications Chair
Daniel S. Berger, M.D., Collections & Acquisitions Chair Ralph Concepcion, Development Chair Jerry Stefl, Education Chair Jan Petry, Exhibits Chair Patrick Blackburn, Long-Range Planning Chair BOARD MEMBERS Cathryn Albrecht Russell Bowman Kevin Cole
F E AT U R E S
11 Finding Beauty
By Jessica Moss Lee Godie created a large portfolio of memorable portraits—and lived vicariously and glamourously through them
Karl D’Cunha Marjorie Freed Nancy Gerrie Ellen Glassmeyer Terry Glover Chris Julsrud Jessica Moss Bob Roth Gretchen Saegh
21 Sunday Painters
Essay by William Swislow In anonymous, discarded paintings, mystery replaces biography—and there’s nothing to get between you and the art
Judy Saslow Rebecca Sive Gail Steffen Lisa Stone Terri Sweig David Syrek ADVERTISING SALES
25 Can-do Spirit
By Lisa Stone Let’s hoist a pint to Houston’s Beer Can House, a conservation project of the highest order
Kevin Cole STAFF
D E PA R T M E N T S
Cleo Wilson, Executive Director Robert Reinard, Program Director, Collections & Exhibitions Amanda Curtis, Program Director, Education Kevin Mulcahy, Membership Coordinator Heather Holbus, Program Coordinator
The Outsider is published two times a year by
What’s Happening at Intuit
Intuit Exhibits & Events
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, located at 756 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. Prior to Fall 1996, Volume 1, Issue 1, The Outsider was published as In’tuit. The annual subscription rate is included with membership and is mailed to all members.
On the Cover: Miss Godie French Impressionist 7-a.m., ca. 1970s. Photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. Collection of Carl Hammer.
Slotin Folk Art Auction November 8th • Buford, GA • 800 Lots The Lifetime Self-Taught Art Collection of Barbara Louviere and The Prestigious Santos Collection of Chuck & Jan Rosenak
Bill Traylor Sister Gertrude Morgan Santero Collection
Call for FREE 100-Page Color Auction Catalog 770 532-1115 • Email: email@example.com • www.slotinfolkart.com
What’s Happening At Intuit and Shawn Ingall, and their families
Photo by Judy Saslow Annie Carlano, curator of Intuit’s Chris Hipkiss: Drawings exhibition, addresses attentive fans while standing before Doddington (1991), Hipkiss’ longest work, which measures 17 feet across.
The outsider art world lost two great friends in the last year: Clay Morrison (1947-2007) and Frank T. Steponate (1936-2008). Clay, a sculptor and collector who came to Chicago as an art student in the 1970s, championed outsider and folk art and all things eccentric. He also created the city’s first exhibition of Mexican Day of the Dead artifacts. Clay was a founding member of Intuit and curated our first exhibition, From Chicago. We are extremely grateful to Janet Sullivan and Marina Post, Clay’s closest friends, who donated to Intuit Clay’s comprehensive library of rare books, catalogs, magazines, flyers, posters and ephemera. Frank was a prominent family law attorney, an accomplished painter and a collector of African sculpture and photographs. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but came to Chicago as a baby and never left. In recent years, he had opened his own gallery (Star Gallery in Michigan City, Indiana, where he had a summer residence), which featured the work of Chicago artists. In addition to having a thriving law practice, Frank was the owner of several restaurants and bars, including Hogan’s, Otto’s and The Beaumont. When he passed away in March, Frank’s daughters, Stacy Greenberg
and Shawn Ingall, and their families requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Intuit, where Frank had been a member since 1994. To date, Frank’s friends and colleagues have donated almost $4,200 to Intuit. We are honored to have been chosen as the recipient of such generosity.
DA R G E R MEETS THE CSO Henry Darger’s Sacred Heart: Explosion, a diptych with the image of the Sacred Heart on the left and an explosion on the right, served as inspiration for young American composer Jefferson Friedman, whose tone poem of the same name was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin for three nights in June. Intuit members had the chance to hobnob with Friedman at a reception, where the composer got to see the Henry Darger Room Collection and an exhibition of 12 of Darger’s watercolors. The concert received critical acclaim and high praise—including four curtain calls—from all in attendance. Sacred Heart: Explosion is part of a trilogy of compositions based on works by outsider artists that Friedman has titled In the Realms of the Unreal. The Darger
piece was the first to be written, followed by The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, which pays tribute to the enormous assemblage created by James Hampton in a Washington, D.C., garage. The third part of the trilogy is yet to be composed. However, Friedman has been besieged with suggestions.
BY THE NUMBERS Thirty-one dealers from throughout the country participated in the 2008 Intuit Show at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart as part of Artropolis, a citywide celebration of arts, antiques and culture. Billed as an “unparalleled art experience,” the five art shows drew more than 50,000 art lovers. Intuit’s educational programming, Outsider Art 101, proved again to be of immense interest. The six slide-lectures presented over the four days by Randy Vick, James Yood, Susann Craig, Roger Ricco and Michael Bonesteel drew standingroom-only audiences. A panel discussion moderated by Rob Lentz of Project Onward, which featured artists with disabilities who talked about their passion to create, also resonated with audiences. The 2008 Intuit Show generated revenue of nearly $100,000. WE NEED YOU! Intuit has been around since 1991. We have put on fabulous exhibitions, created innovative educational programming and put the fun in fundraising at our annual gala. Our continued growth requires the financial support of everyone who shares our commitment “to promote public awareness, understanding and appreciation of intuitive and outsider art.” We invite you to join us. n
– C L E O W I L S O N , E X E C U T I VE DIRECTOR
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Opening Night Preview Thursday, November 6 Information and tickets sofaexpo.com 4 THE OUTSIDER
Judy Onofrio Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art
Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair November 7-9 Navy Pier, Chicago
Intuit Exhibits & Events CA L L FO R PAPERS: OUTSIDE ART/INSIDE RACE There are more African Americans creating what has been termed self-taught or outsider art than any other genre of art. Is there something about the art that has resulted in this lopsided equation? In conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Joseph Yoakum, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art will host a symposium, Outside Art/Outside Race: African American “Self-Taught” Artists, on March 14, 2009. We are seeking papers that examine issues of race, class and identity in the making, collection and presentation of art created by African American self-taught artists. Such issues may include the mythologizing of biography and spirituality, the distinctions and divisions of race and class among collectors and collections, and the interrogation of terminology and stereotypes. Selected papers will be published in a special series in the Outsider magazine. Please submit a 2-page abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 1. Detail, Joseph Yoakum, Mt. Brenda Brenda, n.d. Mixed media, 11 3/4 x 17 3/4 in. Promised gift of Susann Craig.
All events at Intuit unless otherwise noted FIND I N G B E A U T Y : THE A R T O F L E E G O D I E Opening reception 5-8 pm Friday September 12; Runs through January 3 This exhibition, curated by Jessica Moss and David Syrek, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Chicago selftaught artist Lee Godie (1908-1994). This will be the first major exhibit of Godie’s work since her death. SUN DAY PA I N T E R S : D I S CA R D E D PAIN T I N G S B Y G I F T E D A M AT E U R S Runs through January 3 Every year Intuit presents an exhibition composed of recent gifts to its permanent collection, but never before has an entire exhibition been donated. In 2007, Ricco/ Maresca Gallery and Richard Rubenstein did just that when they donated 25 thrift store paintings by unknown amateur artists. ALTERED PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP 2:30–4:30 pm Saturday September 20 Cost: $15 members, $25 non-members
In conjunction with the exhibition Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie, Intuit will offer an exciting hands-on workshop with a vintage photo booth onsite. Godie, the Chicago self-taught artist, often used photography as a way to explore identity. Using the photo booth and Godie as inspiration, participants will create an altered self-portrait. The fee includes all materials, instruction and a photo booth portrait to take home. Students with I.D. will receive a discount. C R E AT E AND BE RECOGNIZED 11 am Saturday September 27 Free and open to the public Deborah Klochko will give a presentation on self-taught artists and the use of photography in their work through collage, photomontage and manipulation. Klochko is the director of the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and has written extensively on current trends in photography. She also is the co-author of Create and Be Recognized: Photography on the Edge. V I S I O N ARY BALL: CONQUEST O F T H E MOON, INTUIT’S A N N U AL BENEFIT GALA Cocktails 6:30 pm, Dinner 7:30 pm Saturday October 25
The Warehouse at Carmichael’s 1052 W. Monroe Street Tickets: $200; tables of 10: $2,000, $3,500, $5,000 All of you space rangers, throw on your latest sci-fi fashions and rocket over to Intuit’s Annual Benefit Gala. Musical entertainment will be provided by Dolce Veeta and the circuit-bending Roth Mobot. And you won’t want to miss the fabulous live auction, which will include a two-sided Henry Darger watercolor, At Jennie Richee they refuse to tell where they hid captured plans. We put the fun in fundraising! INTUIT TRIP: MESSAGES & MAGIC 9 am Saturday November 15 Cost: $65 members and students, $75 non-members Take a trip to the Kohler Arts Center for a tour with curator Leslie Umberger of the exhibition Messages & Magic. This exhibition will present a wide range of work by selftaught and contemporary artists who have invented a unique visual language through the use of collage. A delicious lunch will be served there as well. Afterwards we’ll have a guided tour of James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden, an inspiring vernacular art environment. n
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sanford smithâ€™s 17th annual
january 9 - 11 friday 11am - 8pm saturday 11am - 8pm sunday 11am - 7pm
NEW LOCATION outsider visionary intuitive self-taught art brut
the mart 7 west 34th street, new york city
opening night preview thursday january 8, 6 - 9pm benefit american folk art museum
outsider art week presented by american folk art museum information: 212.265.1040 x 102
sanford l. smith & associates 212.777.5218 www.sanfordsmith.com
Barry Simons BS949, 1997, titled:
“I woke up to see I was Broke.” Dealers in exceptional contemporary, self-taught, naive, visionary, and outsider art; and American folk art. 2661 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94708 tel 510/845-4949 fax 510/845-6219 www.amesgallery.com
100 Years of Collage and Assemblage in American Art September 28, 2008–January 11, 2009 From the collages of an early twentieth-century cigar-factory worker to today’s assemblages using electronic technologies, this unprecedented exhibition looks at ways in which American popular culture has fostered a mode of artistic expression that knows no social or cultural boundaries.
John Michael Kohler Arts Center 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan, WI 53081 920.458.6144 www.jmkac.org Detail, Magic Town by Felipe Jesus Consalvos (mixed media collage on found photograph; 16 x 20 in.).
A Studio for Artists with Special Needs Fernando Ramirez
Ryan Tepich, Angel David Holt, Marilyn Monroe
David Blaisdell, Marilyn Michael Hopkins
Project Onwardâ€™s mission is to suppor t the creativity of visual ar tists with developmental and mental disabilities.
CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER 78 East Washington Chicago, Illinois 60602 w w w. p r o j e c t o n w a r d . o r g James Allen, TGV
Jamin Jaddua, Snoop
CHARLES STEFFEN NudES / PoRTRAiTS / FLowERS NovEmbER 14–JANuARy 10
Charles Steffen, Sunflower, 1994 Colored pencil on taped steno paper, 25 1/2 x 12 inches
RUSSELL BOWMAN ART ADVISO RY 311 wEST SuPERio R, S uiTE 115 CHiCAGo , iL 60610 312 751-9500 FAX 312 751-9572 www. bowmANART.Com
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Finding Beauty Lee Godie created a large portfolio of memorable portraits—and lived vicariously and glamourously through them BY JESS I CA M O SS
Lee Godie (1908-1994) appeared on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968 as a self-proclaimed French Impressionist and pronounced herself superior to Cézanne. Because she lived on the street, Godie’s “studio” changed locations constantly, but she lived and worked primarily in Chicago’s downtown Loop and Gold Coast neighborhoods, and was known as a fixture at the museum. She thrived on the connectedness she felt to the city. “Chicago! A Heaven on Earth” appears on many paintings as a tribute to the city streets she gladly called home.
Bicentennial Daisies, ca. 1976. Pen, watercolor and varnish on canvas. Collection of Rob Parker and Orren Jordan.
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Black Lace, ca. 1970s. Watercolor and ink on canvas board, 19.75 x 15.75 in. Private collection.
Godie’s art began with the creation of her artistic identity and included a prolific body of paintings, drawings, photographic self-portraits and writings. She was best known for her paintings, and her most prevalent subjects were female busts. As a self-titled portraitist, she drew from her own image and those of friends, celebrities and passersby. Most interesting were the archetypal characters she created—part cultural icon, part personal symbolism, including The Prince of the City, The Gibson Girl and Flaming Youth. As much as she appreciated glamour, drama and fashion, Godie was in equal part a lover of nature and animals. Flowers, leaves and branches were central to her compositions, depicted both singularly and accompanying figures. She studied the environment, mostly the urban wildlife around her, and gave form to even the city’s spiders and flies on her canvases. However, birds were her main sources of interest and inspiration—as quintessential symbols of freedom and mobility. In fact, one of her explanations for why she became an artist had it that a red bird came to her with a message to start painting. Although Godie maintained a staunch sense of privacy, as an artist she was a public figure, interacting with her audience in a way that few artists do: by selling her work herself in outdoor settings. This process was highly valued by her patrons; they did not just want her work, they wanted to buy it from Godie. The interaction was part of the magic, even part of the art itself. An instinctive performer, she was often known to sing and dance, and channeled this theatricality into selling and making her art. Godie’s photography captures the fluidity of her art. Beginning in the early 1970s, she started using what she referred to as “publick cameras” to produce several hundred 4.75-by-3.75-inch black-andwhite photo booth self-portraits. She knew how powerful one’s self-image
Smiles, ca. 1970-75. Mixed media on canvas, 26 x 10 in. Collection of Lael and Eugenie Johnson.
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could be and insisted on being in charge of constructing and capturing her own. In it she found the perfect medium to reflect her artistic, dramatic and malleable self. Sometimes she attached the photographs to her canvases, using them as an elaborate signature. She also employed the photos as a marketing tool to propagate her public image, and as a bonus for buying her paintings. On rare occasions she even mounted individual photos to their own small canvases, indicating her conception of them as complete artworks.
Velma, n.d. Paint on canvas, 29.5 x 24.5 in. Collection of Michael S.Thompson.
Miss America (Miss Patriotic), n.d. Pen and paint on canvas, 24.5 x 18 in. Collection of Carl Hammer Gallery.
Godie was her best artistic manifestation; she lived her art from the way she presented herself to the way she behaved to the stories she told. As indicated by the “Artist Lee Godie” signature so commonly found on her works, her name and identity became synonymous with her profession. Once, when asked about her birthdate, she responded, “I don’t celebrate my birthday. I celebrate my status as an artist.” Godie’s demeanor was so interconnected with her other artistic creations that it is not clear which was modeled after the other. She colored her own face with her paints to look like her painted portraits, and she fashioned the faces of her figures to resemble her own visage. Her character studies on canvas related to the exploration of her identity The Ambassador, n.d. Paint on canvas, 22 x 18 in. Collection of Michael S. Thompson. .
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Strawberries, ca. 1970s. Mixed media on canvas, 19.75 x 24 in. Collection of Cheri Eisenberg.
in writing and on film. She plotted out her unusual sales strategies in her journals, used the tactics to amuse her viewers and entice them into buying her work, and then photographed the books in her hands. To say that there was a Godie style is an understatement. There was a Godie way of lifeâ€”one so unique, creative and genuine that it captured the attention and heart of seemingly everyone who met her, making her arguably Chicagoâ€™s most beloved and collected artist. n Jessica Moss is co-curator of the Intuit exhibit Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie (September 12, 2008-January 3, 2009).
Hessian Soldier, n.d. Paint on canvas, 18 x 14 in. Collection of David Syrek and David Csicsko.
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Remembering Lee Godie The artist had ‘a unique sense of fashion’—and some sound advice about how to sell art T H E OUTSIDER ASKED SOME OF THOSE WHO ME T A N D B O U G H T WO R K F R O M L E E G O D I E TO T E L L U S A B O U T O N E OF THEIR ENCOUNTERS WITH THE ARTIST. H E R E ’ S W H AT T H E Y H A D TO S AY.
“There were so very many stories to tell of my various episodes with Lee. From going out and finding her on a subzero night, curled up in a storefront entry and getting her to be admitted in the Cass Hotel, to her proposing to me and asking me to move with her out to the suburbs, I could go on for a long period of time. “One of my favorites occurred when I closed my gallery (at 620 N. Michigan Avenue) down for the evening, and would often walk up the Michigan Avenue bridge to where she would hang out, hawking her paintings to the evening rush hour pedestrian traffic. I would always spend a lot of time talking with her about numerous subjects, most of which were nonsensical, and on this particular occasion she struck up a conversation with me about renting out her paintings. She asked me my opinion, and
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I told her that I didn’t think that it would work very well relative to what she was selling. She told me that a lot of people were renting things nowadays, and she thought that it was a good idea. I sort of blew that notion off and spotted a painting that I liked a lot. After I asked her for her price, she told me she wanted to rent it to me. I said I didn’t like the idea, as I wanted to live with the piece for the rest of my life, and the rental idea didn’t seem compatible with my idea. We haggled about the subject for quite a while, and finally I relented and agreed to rental terms. The payment amount was at least as much as if I purchased the piece, but now I had to return it in a year. I figured that in a year’s time, she would have forgotten all about any rental agreement, and seeing as I had paid her the same amount as if I had purchased it outright, I dismissed any thought of the eventuality of returning it. “Almost exactly to the day, one year later, as I was in one of my deep conversations with Ms. Godie, she casually mentioned, ‘Oh Carl, didn’t I rent a painting to you about a year ago?’ I could not believe my ears. I stuttered and stammered, ‘Rental? I don’t remember any rental.’ ‘Yes, I remember very clearly,’ was her reply, ‘and what’s more, I want it back.’ I was flustered and mumbled that I would look for the piece, thinking that she would forget, hopefully. I knew very well where the piece was and how good it was. For the next couple of weeks, whenever I would see her, she would go into a conniption
fit about where the painting was and why wasn’t I returning it to her. Life was to be miserable for me if I ever wanted to spend time with her again. So the next time I saw her, I returned the artwork, thinking that she would re-rent the piece or sell it outright to me since I loved it so much. She wouldn’t think of it. She rolled it up, stuck it into her portfolio case and I never saw the piece again.” CA R L H A M M E R , OW N E R , CA R L H A M M E R GA L L E R Y
“I was a student in Pennsylvania in college. I had always been interested in the field of self-taught art but I didn’t know anything about it. I had heard that there was a lady in the subways of Chicago who made paintings. That’s all I knew, but it fascinated me. I ended up transferring to Chicago to finish school. I was on a bus one day, not long after I moved here. I was on the bus heading to Michigan and Chicago Avenue and I glanced over into the little park and saw this strange creature. I just thought, that’s got to be that woman. I pulled the string and jumped off the bus. She was sitting on a bench in the park, which is now facing the Park Hyatt Hotel. And I walked over and sat on the park bench next to her. I said hello and she didn’t respond. She was drawing and I asked her about the drawing she was making. She just started screaming at me: Who did I think I was approaching her, and how dare I speak to her! All of a sudden
Lee - Winter in Chicago, ca. 1970s. Ink on photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. Collection of Jessica Moss and Kavi Gupta..
this policeman came over on horseback and said, ‘Lee, is this man bothering you?’ And I was just stunned. And she looked at me and she looked up at him and she said no. And he rode away and I thought, well, I guess she put me in my place. And it was just great, because I was this kid and I didn’t know what I was doing, and here I think I’m just going to walk up and talk to her and learn everything and instead she completely shuts me down and has police protection at that. So it was pretty great. But I ended up buying a drawing from her that day and I still have it.” DAVI D SYREK, CHICAG O T R I B U N E ART DIRECTOR AND CO-CURATOR OF FIN D I N G B E AU T Y : THE ART OF LEE GOD I E
around the flophouses where she lived. She was known to yell “nigger” if she was approached by an African American. Fearing this reaction, I never stopped to talk to her. I would walk quickly by and grab a look at what she was working on. One day, as it was beginning to sprinkle, she was hawking a ballpoint-pen drawing to passersby. The paper was covered with tiny umbrellas. Lee was clever like that. “Then one day, she called me over. She wanted to know about some accident that had happened on a New York bridge. She peppered me with questions about it. I guess that made me all right. I stood there talking to her as she worked on a drawing of a woman with a flat-top hat. Next to it was a quarter-moon with a star. She used as her canvas the back of a piece of fabric wall covering. When she was finished, she took out a tube of hot pink lipstick to color the hat and entirely color both ears. After she signed it, she asked my name and wrote on the back: ‘This Belongs Cleo.’ “I was never afraid to speak to her again. I also bought another piece.” CLEO WILSON, INTUIT EXECUTIVE D I R E CTO R
“I was one of the many people who worked or shopped along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile who saw the very eccentric woman who sat drawing in store windows and at the Water Tower Pumping Station. She was always dirty, but changed every day from one wacky outfit to another. I knew she was the artist Lee Godie. I knew other outsiders and had met William Dawson and a few Southern artists, but she was the only living female self-taught artist that I knew of. “She had a reputation for not liking African Americans. I’d heard that she had been robbed by homeless black men in and
“I had been buying pieces from Lee over the years, and believed I had some type of relationship with her. But my most memorable experience was one summer day around 1992-93. It was during the period that Lee was hanging around on North Michigan Avenue. I remember it was a hot, sweltering day and I had gone out to get lunch. I was working then at the Museum of Contemporary Art. “I saw Lee was sitting on the steps of the Water Tower Pumping Station. I noticed that she wasn’t working. I asked her why and she told me that she wasn’t allowed in Walgreens to buy poster board. I told Lee that I would go buy it for her. As I headed to Walgreens, she yelled out, ‘Wait, wait, let
me give you some money.’ She reached into her sock and pulled out a wad of $20 bills bigger than I’d ever seen. ‘Bring me back the change,’ she yelled as I headed across the street. I was concerned about her carrying the materials around, so I bought only 10 sheets of poster board. But when I got back she was gone. “I stood around self-consciously waiting for her. She returned a few minutes later with a pint of ice cream. ‘Will you join me?’ she asked. Of course, she had only one spoon. We shared the drippy mess and it was then that she told me she wanted to do my portrait. The problem was that I didn’t have any money to pay her. “For the next hour or so, she drew my portrait. She was obsessed with my lack of hair. ‘You’re much too young to not have a full head of hair,’ she said. In addition, she told me she would like to buy me a toupee, and she knew just the place. “All this time, people are walking by, some even stopping to ask about buying the piece. She motioned for the prospective buyers to get lost. “When Lee was done, she asked me my name and put it on the pocket of the portrait. I protested, ‘But Lee, I can’t buy it. I don’t have any money.’
Left: Untitled, ca. 1970s. Watercolor on photo booth photograph mounted to canvas, 7 x 5 in. Collection of Erik Weisenberger and Elizabeth Rogers. Right: Lee – I kept saying left side and grooves till I got to the camera. Sincerily, ca. 1970s. Photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. The Sandor Family Collection.
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“ ‘Don’t you know how to accept a gift?’ she asked, as she rolled up the portrait and put on a rubber band. With that, she handed it to me and walked away.” GREG CAMERON, EXECUTIVE VP AND CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER, WTTW11
“I moved to Chicago in 1984, and right away I landed a job at Carl Hammer Gallery, when his space was still at 620 N. Michigan Avenue. I was really very green at the time, never having worked in a gallery before, and was definitely winging it. Shortly after I started, there was an opening at the gallery. I recall being seriously nervous because I had no idea how to sell art, and wasn’t sure that I even wanted to. That afternoon I went out to hit the street and get some air. And there was Lee, in the lobby. I knew her work but had never met her, so it was very exciting. She was drawing on canvas, and had three beautiful paintings of leaves and birds, so I bought my first paintings from her. “We began to chat and I told her I was working for Carl, which was fortunate because she loved Carl and she would hang out in the lobby, presumably to cross paths with him from time to time. I told her how nervous I was, that I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t know if I was really cut out for gallery work. She was
very sweet, only as Lee Godie could be “For a street person/bag lady, Lee Godie sweet, and she started giving me a pep had a most unique sense of fashion. Before talk. She said, ‘Now, you listen to me. I sold I knew who she was, I remember seeing my first painting, right here on this spot, a woman crossing the Michigan Avenue to Alan Frumkin.’ (Frumkin Gallery was Bridge one spring day in a peasant blouse originally in the building.) She told me she and skirt and wearing a blue straw hat with developed a sales speech and practiced it clusters of cherries resting on the brim. A for two days and two nights; she told me day or two later, I saw the same woman she ‘reiterated and reiterated it, over and in the same outfit, but she had inverted over.’ She knew what she would tell him the hat, and the cherry clusters were now and she’d name her price. The pep talk dangling around her face and ears. A few went on for some time and she said, ‘This years later when I purchased the painting is how you sell the work. You decide on Sweet Sixteen, I recognized the hat with the your price and you reiterate it and reiterate cherries on it. it in your mind and you stick to your guns and don’t back down an inch.’ So I thought, “Sometimes she wore men’s shoes. When okay, I can do this. It was a totally charged I was going home from work, I would often experience. see the legs and feet of a person behind the curtain of the photo booth in the I.C. “A few hours later the opening was in full Railroad Station at Randolph Street. You swing, when Lee—who never came in could tell it was Lee Godie from the shoes. the gallery—came into the gallery. She I think she used to sleep in there, but that marched right up and handed me a booth was also where she took many of package of windmill cookies and wished the photographs of herself that she used in me good luck. She said I should give a her work. cookie to everyone who bought a work of art (which I did). So she gave me “It was because of what she was wearing windmill cookies and very good advice, and that I was initially able to identify who she launched me into a career. “ was. Several friends who had purchased work from her told me she was frequently L I S A S TO N E , C U R ATO R , seen on Michigan Avenue carrying a R O G E R B R OW N S T U DY C O L L E CT I O N large black portfolio on her way to the OF THE SCHOOL OF THE ART Art Institute. One day, again crossing the I N S T I T U T E O F C H I CAG O Michigan Avenue Bridge, I passed this woman and stopped dead in my tracks. I thought, What is so strange about her? Well, it was in July in Chicago, and was at least 90 degrees out—and she was wearing a fur jacket! She was also carrying a portfolio. So I turned around and caught up with her at the next stoplight, asked if she was Lee Godie, the famous artist, and introduced myself. I didn’t buy anything from her that day, but after that, at least I knew who she was. And that was the first of many memorable encounters that I had with her over the next eight or nine years.” LO L L I T H U R M , C O L L E CTO R
Top: When My Coat Was New, ca. 1970s. Ink on photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. The Sandor Family Collection.
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Bottom: Pretty gray cloud rained on Lee – A cloud came down on me screemed! No one came – death I said almost – prayed rained! Washed my pretty hair away 35 Wacker Dr., ca. 1970s. Photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. Collection of Lisa Stone and Don Howlett.
Portraitist Lee, ca. 1970s. Photo booth photograph, 4.75 x 3.75 in. Collection of Lisa Stone and Don Howlett. Images provided by Carl Hammer Gallery
THE OUTSIDER 19
Sunday Painters In anonymous, discarded paintings, mystery replaces biographyâ€”and thereâ€™s nothing to get between you and the art
Every year, Intuit presents an exhibition composed of recent gifts to its Permanent Collection, but never before has an entire exhibition been donated. In 2007, Ricco/Maresca Gallery and Richard Rubenstein were generous enough to do just that when they gave Intuit 25 thrift store paintings by unknown amateur artists. Acquired from collectors and collections from 1999-2003, these paintings were part of a larger exhibition of the same name at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in 2003. Twentyfour of the 25 paintings were donated by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco; the additional painting was a gift from the collection of Richard Rubenstein. Pictured here are some of them. Sunday Painters: Discarded Paintings by Gifted Amateurs runs through January 3, 2009.
THE OUTSIDER 21
22 THE OUTSIDER
Anonymous art is wonderfully simple. What’s there is what the artist put into it, no more or less. Intentions and creative contexts, ethnicity, mental diagnosis, educational background, the artist’s art-historical role—all are ciphers. In place of biography there is mystery, and the creative process speaks for itself to viewers who are as anonymous to the artist as the artist is to them. There is a purity to this, but also a crap shoot. The artist does not know (and intentionally or by misdirection does not care) where and how the art will be viewed. At flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales and junk shops, the audience, and the art, are left to their own devices. That is not to say there is no context. The flea market creates its own environment, imparting a meaning to everything found there. The artifacts of creative effort, along with the old tools, scratchy LPs, broken furniture and collectible jelly jars share in a kind of negation: The lowestcommon-denominator quality that unites all the junkscape’s objects into an ashesto-ashes, all-is-vanity message—except in that magical moment when the right collector spots the right object. Besides favorable pricing, this egoboosting moment is part of the appeal of anonymous art. Only the finely tuned collector’s eye can decode the message of secret value hidden amid the flea market’s detritus, where the devices that galleries, museums, critics and artists use to explain and value art are utterly absent. Also absent is accountability. There is no artist with feelings to be hurt, no one whose interests the ethical collector or dealer must take account of, nobody, other than a casual seller, to get between you and the art. n
– WILLIAM SWISLOW
All paintings Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, gift of Richard Rubenstein and Ricco/Maresca Gallery, 2007.9, 2007.10.1-24 Images provided by Ricco Maresca Gallery
THE OUTSIDER 23
Can-do spirit Let’s hoist a pint to Houston’s Beer Can House, a conservation project of the highest order
BY LISA S TO N E
There’s no shortage of beer lovers out there, but no one expressed his love for beer more ardently, or recycled his empties more artistically, than John Milkovisch. Beginning in 1968, the retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad began altering his home and garden at 222 Malone, in Houston’s Rice Military neighborhood, one beer can at a time. After 18 years of work (and god knows how many beer cans), he transformed a typical bungalow into an elegant and original showplace. He covered the walls and other surfaces with flattened beer cans in quilt-like patterns. He festooned the eaves with garlands of beer can ends and flip tops, creating hundreds of strands that tinkle in the breeze. He covered the front and back yards, sidewalk and driveway with inlaid concrete, then punctuated it all with raised garden beds and other flourishes.
Photo by Larry Harris/Orange Show Center for Visionary Art Beer can top garlands hanging from the eaves of the house sound like gentle rain when the wind kicks up.
THE OUTSIDER 25
Naturally, 222 Malone became known as the Beer Can House. Milkovisch was a talented artist and craftsman with a keen eye for the formal elements of color, pattern, texture and light, and he created a stunningly original and cohesive composition. Houstonians have the arguable privilege of having no zoning, which makes just about anything possible, and there are some fairly outrageous examples of architectural bombast in ordinary neighborhoods. Since Milkovisch retained the lines, shape and openings of the home, the Beer Can House blended into the bungalow-studded neighborhood with ease. It was both extraordinary and original, while relating to the vernacular vocabulary—a bungalow dressed up in beer can clothing.
Milkovisch ceased drinking beer (and living) in 1988. In 2001, the Orange Show Foundation for Visionary Art, with its commitment to Houston’s self-taught and vernacular treasures and culture, acquired the Beer Can House from the Milkovisch family. At the time, it appeared to be a viable project with a fairly simple transition from a privately owned home to a site under the wing of an arts organization.
At the time the Orange Show Foundation took on the Beer Can House, many elements of the site, especially the aluminum ornamentation, appeared to be in good condition but were indeed on the verge of turning a corner. Deterioration of the house and cladding were imminent, and the neighborhood itself would soon undergo a transformation. The consistent scale of the surrounding neighborhood began to change radically, as one-story bungalows set back from the street were replaced by enormous condos hugging the street and lot lines. The Beer Can House was soon flanked on one side by an architecturally vacant behemoth, and on the other by a vacant lot, which was eventually occupied by another behemoth. The new buildings engulfed and dwarfed the Beer Can House, irrevocably changed its visual and historical context and changed the environmental conditions. The effect—blocking circulation, condensing heat and humidity around the building, and flooding it with rainwater runoff— accelerated its deterioration.
In the genre of art environments, artists exalt their passions and convictions throughout their homes and landscapes. When sites outlive the lives of their builders, which they often do, the ongoing lives of sites pose major challenges.
Contemporary art critics, art historians and arts administrators want contemporary art to satisfy a range of artistic, social and political agendas. Most arts professionals overlook the fact that environments by self-taught artists have negotiated these arenas in complex ways for many years. Art environments reflect and are affected by every agency of change, from fluctuations in real estate values to the impact of the weather. In addition to functioning artistically, they exist in space and time, and thus they heighten our awareness of change in the environment beyond the environment, and of change itself.
26 THE OUTSIDER
Photos by Larry Harris/Orange Show Center for Visionary Art A front view of The Beer Can House. The curtain of garlands keeps the front porch shady and cool.
The Orange Show board and staff realized that they had acquired an art environment in crisis that demanded immediate attention as well as a transfusion of ideas and resources. Faced with complex physical and philosophical challenges and their implications, they considered two options: move the entire site—building and hardscape—to land adjacent to the Orange Show (built by Jeff McKissack to extol the glory and wonder of the orange), which would focus staff and other resources at a single campus and offer the public a cluster of cultural attractions; or preserve it in situ, allowing it to maintain the integrity of its history and location, and to continue to perform as a cultural treasure within a rapidly changing landscape. Neither option was without major challenges. The Orange Show board and staff knew that their decision would be closely watched by the historic preservation and art environment
communities. In order to explore the options with institutional transparency, and to consider a range of opinions, they hosted a retreat in 2005, inviting artists, architects, preservationists, Orange Show board members and others from Houston’s civic and cultural communities. The meeting was a spirited exchange of ideas and opinions that eventually led to the decision to preserve the site in situ. This decision is consonant with a primary tenet of contemporary historic preservation theory: that a site divorced from its original location, and all contexts related to that location, no matter how carefully restored, loses a large measure of its integrity. The Orange Show Foundation retained architect Julie Birsinger to manage the project. The related interview with Birsinger addresses the complexities of the conservation project. The transformation of the Beer Can House to its new life as a treasure of Houston’s artistic and cultural landscape
is astonishing. In the somewhat underrecognized sphere of the preservation of art environments, this is a landmark project of the highest order. The Orange Show Foundation should be commended for its rigorous examination of the range of physical challenges and preservation issues, from the possibility of moving it to a new location, to pioneering the restoration of aluminum cans and their surfaces, and for making consistently wise preservation planning decisions. Magnificently restored, the Beer Can House endures as an architectural and artistic treasure, and an anchor that will connect the neighborhood’s past with its malleable future. And, it stands as a testament to one of life’s simple pleasures: a frosty beer. n Lisa Stone, curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has worked on the documentation and preservation of art environments for more than 20 years.
Photo from Milkovisch Family Archives
Clockwise from top left: John and Mary Milkovisch, circa 1987. A pathway to the back of the house is blocked by a “wall” made from wire and (now rusted) soup cans. Texas Pride beer, a long-gone Southern cousin of Pabst Blue Ribbon. A fence post inlaid with stones and marble.
THE OUTSIDER 27
Details, details—and thousands and thousands of beer cans The Outsider spoke with architect Julie Birsinger, who started as a volunteer and then was hired on as project manager for the Beer Can House restoration, about what kind of work went into returning the Houston art environment to its former glory. The site opened to the public on February 29. How did you first get involved in the project? To do community service while working at an architectural firm, I had called up the Orange Show to see if they needed any kind of volunteer help. They said they needed help with documentation for the Beer Can House. There needed to be documentation as to what was there on the site. We needed to determine the different types of garlands and fence pieces that John Milkovisch made and to draw elevations of the houses and fences so that if we had any kind of disaster—heaven forbid—or needed to do any re-creation, we would have that documentation. We also needed to document the state that the house and artwork were in at the time—and try to determine what pieces might need to be replaced, and what was missing.
the beer can pieces together, and that’s fine up to a certain point, but then all the steel starts rusting at once. And then you have a period of a couple months where everything starts falling off the house. It wasn’t in excessive deterioration; it just needed continual upkeep. What were some of the greatest challenges you faced? I was really intrigued by the craftsmanship and the work that John put into the house. He was very, very precise in the way that he did things. He was cutting hundreds and thousands of beer cans and fastening them together. He always worked by himself. He didn’t have anyone else work on the house while he was alive. So his techniques were very, very refined. So the main challenge was that we were trying to restore and duplicate some of his techniques and do it in a much shorter period of time and also
do it with more than one person. It was important to me to have the techniques as close to the way John did them as possible. So it was a challenge for even me to figure out how he did them, and then to train other people. We had some architecture students from the University of Houston who did a lot of the work. And we also had a lot of volunteers. It was a bit of a challenge to get everybody’s work to look the same, and make it as precise as John’s was. How did you find people to help with the preservation? Another goal of the project, because the Beer Can House was very loved by the community, was that we wanted the community to be involved with the restoration. We had architecture students, and employees of the Orange Show, but we also had what we called volunteer happy hours at the house, which were a lot of fun.
What kind of condition was the house in when you started? The house itself was in good shape. It was built in the 1930s and just needed general maintenance work. But the grounds require a lot of maintenance—keeping up with the weeds that grow in between the cracks in the concrete and keeping up with the deterioration of the [wooden] fences and the beer can pieces themselves. John had used steel connectors to hang a lot of
28 THE OUTSIDER
Photos by Larry Harris/Orange Show Center for Visionary Art The house’s address, plus a bit of advice.
We put out a call to friends and family and word spread and we would have groups of up to about 30 people at the house. We got all the supplies—pliers and cutters and a bunch of beer cans—and taught them how to cut up the pieces and make the garlands and make some of the shapes. We also had groups from different work organizations and local art groups come by and help us out for half a day or so. Tell me a little about gathering materials for the restoration. John used pull-tab-style cans because he was drinking the beer in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Of course, they don’t make those any more. So the question was—did we use the modern cans—if John were alive, he’d be drinking the beer and he’d be using those cans—or did we try to duplicate the older-style cans because it’s part of that repetition and part of the fabric of the way it looks as a whole? The newer cans have a smaller diameter as far as the top and bottom pieces are concerned, and have a different shape, and so how would it look on the house if we were trying to keep it consistent with his original artwork? So someone found Ken, who’s in a local chapter of the Brewery Collectors Club of America. He put the call out to their national organization and asked people to donate cans if they were getting rid of their collections. So we got thousands and thousands and thousands of cans in over the years. But we had to sort through them all to find the cans that were as close as possible to the cans that John used. So we’d sort through them to find, OK, this top of the can is the proper top we want to use on this curtain. And then there was sorting them by label. A lot of the collectors would collect exotic beer cans. But John drank very ordinary beer. His quote was that whatever was on sale was his favorite beer. So if there was a label showing on one of the fences, you’d want to replace it with one from a can of Old Milwaukee or Pabst Blue Ribbon or another kind of beer that he drank.
Created by son Ron Milkovisch after his father’s passing, the driveway gate helped to keep mischievous teenagers out of the yard.
What other kind of details did you have to deal with?
What’s the experience now for people who visit the house?
John never saw it as a work of art. It was just something he did—a kind of a hobby. So he used everyday, ordinary materials. He didn’t think of things needing to last a long time. If something fell down or it broke or it didn’t work, he would take it down and do something else with it. So we had about 300 pictures from the family’s archive that had been taken over the years, and I’d be poring over them and finding all these details—but he kept moving things on me! So trying to figure out what to restore it to was a challenge.
That’s another interesting thing about the house. Its popularity is due to the fact that it’s accessible to a lot of different kinds of people. We get people who come from out of town and are doing museum visits and are looking at it more from an artistic point of view. And you have groups who are coming either because they like beer or are can collectors. Then there are those who are interested in it from a historic preservation viewpoint. We still treated it like this preservation project even though we were using aluminum beer cans, not dealing with 15th Century marble.
Is there much ongoing work that has to be done?
As far as the visitors, some people just want to drive by and jump out of the car and take a picture in front of it. Then you get folks who want to know every single thing about the project and why John would bother to do this sort of work and what was going through his head. What makes it so accessible is that it’s beer cans. Everyone knows what an aluminum can looks like and they’re fascinated by what John made out of such an ordinary object. n
We restored the beer can pieces as much as possible. But being outside, it is an outdoor sculpture, and some of the materials are still going to deteriorate. We have this hot Houston sun and a lot of moisture in the air, so they’re going to continue to deteriorate no matter what we do. There are always weeds to be pulled and beer can pieces that fall off that will have to be put up again.
For more information on the Beer Can House, go to www.orangeshow.org/beercan.html or www.beercanhouse.org.
THE OUTSIDER 29
DON’T MISS THE OPPORTUNITY TO BID IN PERSON OR ONLINE ON THIS HENRY DARGER PAINTING—ALL WHILE SUPPORTING INTUIT
Left: Vivian Girls Narrowly Escape Capture Right (verso): At Jennie Ritchee they refuse to tell where they hid captured plan, (Framed, 28” x 57”) Gift of Eugenie and Lael Johnson, © Kiyoko Lerner
Intuit’s Annual Visionary Ball Saturday, October 25, 2008
View outstanding auction items including a two-sided Henry Darger watercolor and a fantastic Cancun vacation.
The Warehouse at Carmichael’s 1052 W. Monroe, Chicago For more information visit www.art.org
www.intuit.cmart.com All proceeds benefit Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, a nonprofit organization.
Alexandra Huber, Sandy Mastroni, Ronald Sloan, Anthony Guyther, Clem Ruggerio, Ann Harper, Paul Pitt, Theresa Prokop, Purvis Young, Maurice Hansen, Ken Grimes, DeMarco, M. Sesow, C. Es, etc. Paintings, collage, sculpture, photography, ink, Pueblo pottery, found objects
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Lee Godie, Prince Charming undated, mixed media, 20 1/2” x 13 1/2”
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Lee Godie, Prince Charming undated, mixed media, 20” x 14”
View more images at www.jsaslowgallery.com
Education: No Child Left Behind at Intuit
B Y EDWARD PINO
Last year I took a class of Ms. Song’s 5th graders from Jose Clemente Orozco Academy in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on a very special field trip to Intuit to meet with artist Lonnie Holley. I wasn’t familiar with his work, and didn’t know anything about his difficult and painful history, but it didn’t really matter. He greeted us warmly upon entering the gallery, sat us down and immediately started telling us his life story. As the artist was talking, he began to manipulate some found materials he had already collected that were just lying around on the gallery floor. Without our realizing it, he was creating a woman’s profile by bending wire and gracefully braiding some tangled string into hair. Then came his comment, which captured
32 THE OUTSIDER
the lovely, revolutionary spirit that defines all outsider art. “Look at how beautiful she is!” he said of his dirty, makeshift creation. Then Holley—who was spending two weeks at Intuit as an artist-in-residence—gave each of the students four bottle caps, four nails, a piece of fabric and some wire, and asked them to make something special from his stash of stuff. He then asked them to add their humble creations to the hulk of his already crafted “slave ship.” Not only did these students get to meet Holley, but they also got to watch him create, share his materials, contribute to his assemblage and have their picture taken with him individually. Last but not least, the artist even encouraged the
students to stay in touch with him via e-mail. This single experience turned out to be one of the highlights of my 18-year teaching career—and I wasn’t even doing the teaching. Please take note, Chicago Public Schools: This meeting was what truly is meant by a “no child left behind” experience. On a second field trip to Intuit, we took the same students to view the exhibit A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions. The purpose of this trip was to get the students inspired and motivated to create their own symbolic building that represented a member of their family or another special person. I added another twist to this lesson by asking them to include silhouetted figures in the windows, like the artist
Roger Brown did so well. At the gallery, the students began their work on the floor in front of the Rizzoli drawing of their choice. They sketched out their buildings and completed the painting and collage windows back in the classroom. Our most recent collaboration with Intuit took place during a teacher field trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum, where we viewed the artwork of Martín Ramírez. Victor Espinosa, a noted authority on Ramírez, was on board the bus we took and gave us a thorough education on the life story of this famous Mexican-American outsider. Ramírez proved to be particularly interesting to our Orozco students, who continue to have strong ties to Mexico. Even though the majority of them were born in the United States, many feel their true homeland is Mexico. Any person, place or thing alluding to Mexico is met with smiles, embraces and unconditional acceptance. I have no doubt when I prepare a lesson or art activity around something Mexican that it will be successful. So it was with “The Martín Ramírez Lesson Plan”;
students immediately were engaged by his life and work. That he is also considered an outsider artist made our experience of him all the more exciting. My student teacher, Ms. Marjorie Boyles, created a Power Point presentation that framed our challenge to the students to emulate Ramírez both thematically and stylistically. Students were given a choice among three subjects that were most dear to the artist: the Madonna, the Train and the Cowboy/ Cowgirl. Just as we had predicted, our young artists empathized with Ramírez’s story and formed a bond with his artwork by paying tribute to him with their own horse rider, Madonna or train. Like outsiders, whose work is often not validated by the mainstream culture, young students also face enormous obstacles, such as incessant noise and distracting behavior from other students, rushed 40-minute class periods and crowded conditions. Both outsider and student artists tend to be depicted as primitive, unsophisticated, naïve, marginalized and
Fifth graders emulate the art of Martín Ramírez. Works shown are by Jazmine Becerra (opposite page), Adriana Alvarez (left) and Christopher Perez, all from the Jose Clemente Orozco Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences.
raw. When describing their work, I would prefer to call outsider artwork and student work together inventive, original, imaginative and spiritual. I believe art—true art like outsider art—cannot be taught. Furthermore, both student art and outsider art rely on personal vision and both use a lot of non-traditional materials, especially in my classroom. Young artists, like outsiders, create out of impulse, obsession and spiritual inspiration. As a teacher, even I cannot fully teach the ability to access meaningful image creation that comes from their inner life and powerful memories. Students must make those connections on their own and express themselves in a visually honest way. Finally, I believe that personal contact with outsider artists and their work contributes to American society as a whole by showing that self-taught art is not peripheral; it’s a respected part of our culture. n
Edward Pino is an art Instructor at Jose Clemente Orozco Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences in Chicago.
THE OUTSIDER 33
Book Reviews COL L E CT I N G M A D N E SS : O U T S I D E R ART FROM THE DAMMANN COLLECTION
By Thomas Röske, Bettina Brand-Claussen and others. Catalog by the Prinzhorn Collection, 256 pages, 92 illustrations, 2006. ISBN: 3-88423-237-1
carved faces exude a nightmare-inducing distress; a bit of fantastical heraldry from the 18th Century that demonstrates both expert knowledge of the craft and near paranoid fantasy; and a group of madonnas whose creepiness is capable of reducing children to tears, according to Karin Dammann. There also are some excellent examples of work from the House of Artists at the Gugging clinic, which all in all are less disturbing but very strong examples of asylum-made art.
It may seem like a cheap shot to call Collecting Madness schizophrenic, but between its punning title and divided sense of purpose, the description is irresistible.
Gugging, as Gerhard Dammann points out, “was a stroke of luck. The proportion of those who have genuine ability is just as low as in the population as a whole. The fact that someone is mentally ill does not make him an artist. In hospitals it’s always only one or two who produce anything remarkable.” Dammann is not pleased with how Gugging has developed, a sentiment he appears to share with others unhappy about the workshop’s increasing commercialization.
By Thomas Röske, Bettina Brand-Claussen, Gerhard Dammann and others. Catalog by the Prinzhorn Collection, 224 pages, 101 illustrations, 2006. ISBN: 3-88423-265-7
THE AIR LOOM AND OTHER DANGEROUS INFLUENCING MACHINES
The title refers both to the mania of acquisition and to a particular exhibit of a German collection focused on work by artists with histories of mental problems and confinement in asylums. The catalog itself is divided by an abrupt transition halfway through, switching from fascinating explorations of art collecting to a series of rather conventional considerations of specific artworks and artists. If the transition in the essays is a bit jarring, this is still that rare exhibition catalog where the writing is, on balance, more interesting than the illustrations, which are neither plentiful nor all that extraordinary. The featured collection, belonging to Karin and Gerhard Dammann, does have strong work in it. The handful of exceptional pieces illustrated in the book include a 19th Century bed frame whose hand-
34 THE OUTSIDER
The Dammanns are fairly humble about their own collecting effort. They don’t aspire to the epic scope of, say, the Lausanne Collection de l’Art Brut or the ABCD Art Brut collection. The Dammanns do collect with serious purpose, though, and their exploration of the artistry of the mentally ill provides a strong jumping-off point for the authors. Some of the essays nicely turn the tables on the usual outsider art story line, with the collectors, rather than the artists, being given the psychoanalytic treatment. Thomas Röske, curator of the Prinzhorn Collection, considers the extremes of collecting—“narcissistic retreat from relationships,” isolation, pointless accumulation, addiction—while also considering milder instances of the habit. Among his conclusions: Collecting helps collectors construct their own identity.
Those willing to incorporate outsider work into their identities set a positive example of inclusion for art that has been characterized by a long history of rejection and devaluation. Bettina Brand-Claussen explores the first bits of that history, going back to the early 1800s, while also documenting the pre-history of the Prinzhorn Collection (i.e., art-related activities at the Heidelberg Clinic before Dr. Prinzhorn took charge and assembled his historic collection of the art before it became brut). It’s clear that the relationship between psychiatric and aesthetic appreciation of work by asylum dwellers was fraught from early on. In his unsentimental view of the early years, Peter Gorsen demonstrates that conflict over terminology has bedeviled the field since its birth. Jean Dubuffet engaged in his own term wars as he tried to establish a non-psychiatric view of work that he was collecting mostly out of institutions. “Art brut” the label was itself a weapon. In The Air Loom and Other Dangerous Influencing Machines, another catalog for an exhibit at the Prinzhorn, the focus is even more on psychiatric issues. In an earlier time, that could have been problematic, but the success of Dubuffet and his followers in liberating the art from its psychiatric context actually makes it easier to appreciate the insights. Although there is still plenty to debate relating to terminology and the significance of biography, the specifically medical terrain no longer feels like an impediment to aesthetic value. In this case the medical context is a useful reminder of the pain often associated with these creative exercises, and it also underscores how these works constitute portals into other worlds, albeit wholly
interior ones. Fuller understanding of their delusional background makes it even more engrossing to enter these bizarre and distorted worldviews. The historical and sociological meaning of these materials also adds to their impact. Röske and Brand-Claussen point out that James Tilly Matthews’ schematic representation of the Air Loom—a pneumatic machine that he believed pumped out vapors to control his behavior—constitutes the first documented concept of a mindcontrol device. Remember that in 1800 the Industrial Revolution was still in process and the idea of all-powerful machinery was in some ways still novel. What is now a common enough trope in literature, movies and cartoons—equipment that can control a person’s behavior and thoughts—originated in the delusions of paranoid schizophrenics. Indeed, other more recent fantasies of influencing machines (a psychiatric term for mind-control devices) bring the psychotic and the scientific even closer together. As essayist Verena Kuni points out, in the early years of radio the notion of similarities between radio and brainwaves interested scientists as well as asylum inmates, with experiments attempting to validate whether the brain could be influenced by radio waves. Of course, in our day the notion of direct interfaces between electronic devices and brains is no longer relegated to the far side of visionary. Meanwhile, much of the art shown here is magnificent, though as in Collecting Madness the illustrations are not abundant. The drawings of Joseph Schneller and Robert Gie, not to mention the embroidery of Johanna Natalie Wintsch, are truly art brut masterworks and are well reproduced. Unfortunately, neither of these books is easy to come by, at least in the United States. You will need to find a European
seller online and take the hit on both the exchange rate and the shipping. – WILLIAM SWISLOW
S T E N D HAL SYNDROME, ART THAT M A K E S YOU GO CRAZY By Frits Gronert and others, Galerie Atelier Herenplaats, 286 pages, 202 color plates and 18 black and white illustrations, 2008. ISBN 90-807072-4-4
Frits Gronert has two reasons for having chosen this book’s title, which refers to a rare but officially recognized psychotic condition caused by an overwhelming experience of aesthetic beauty. Recounting how Stendhal, the French writer for whom the syndrome is named, succumbed to a bout of psychosis after viewing classical art in Florence, Gronert writes: “Apparently visual art can be so fascinating that it can drive you round the bend. From here, it is only a very small step to the other link between art and healthcare.” This “other link” is one that Herenplaats, a Rotterdam art studio program for artists with mental disabilities, has been exploring since it was founded in 1991. The second reason, which Gronert, Herenplaats’ co-director, leaves unstated, is that he believes the artwork in these pages is beautiful enough to make readers go crazy. Some of it is. If you defy convention and start at the back of the book, you’ll encounter paintings by 23-year-old Jeroen Pomp, Herenplaats’ newest star, whose work has been shown at the Outsider Art Fair for the past four years by New York’s Luise Ross Gallery.
Pomp’s favorite subject is his home city of Rotterdam, which he casts as a chaotic, noisy place. In the 20 Pomp paintings shown here, musicians march with their instruments in the streets, and lions, dogs and toucans recline alongside boxy cars. Pomp paints in tropical colors, and his cars, walls and trees are often cut off, leaving the impression that the scenes continue far beyond the square block or so he’s captured—that the whole city looks this way. Flip back 70 pages and you’ll find a very different depiction of Rotterdam. Longtime Herenplaats artist Laan Irodjojo creates meticulous paintings of office towers, cranes and bridges. His Rotterdam is a clean, quiet, vertical city of light blues and grays. Irodjojo is utterly faithful to environmental detail, down to the precise number of windows and even the position of a corporate logo at the top of an office building, Gronert says in the text accompanying Irodjojo’s portfolio. In the book, Gronert explains that the Herenplaats staff attempts to teach their artists, most of whom have either autism or Down syndrome, to ask themselves, “How do I see the things around me?” Flipping between Irodjojo’s paintings and Pomp’s is a testament to this lesson’s success. Their work also is evidence of how much the studio values artistic quality. “I believe that if we want to take the work seriously, we first have to be critical of it ourselves,” Gronert writes. “The quality of the work should be the most important, and not the handicap.” Perhaps as a consequence of the studio’s charge to its artists to depict the world as they see it, many of them choose sex as their subject. This book focuses on the studio’s gentler, more lyrical artists, however, so the cartoonish and aggressively sexual drawings of Ben Augustus and Hein Dingemans, whose
THE OUTSIDER 35
Book Reviews (continued)
work appeared in Folly Drawings, an earlier Herenplaats publication, are not among them. The bright, erotic portraits of Paulus de Groot, whose father, Karel de Groot, was a professional artist, more than compensate for their absence. Juxtaposing de Groot’s work with Hans Hartman’s biblically inspired portraits, which appear a few pages later, is as arresting as flipping between Irodjojo and Pomp.
implies – ever so gently—a qualification on the artistic status of its members. —MICHAEL RYMER
Note: This book can be ordered by e-mailing email@example.com.
FO L L I ES OF EUROPE: A R C H I TECTURAL EXTRAVAGANZAS
The artwork in this book inspires a curiosity about these artists’ lives that the text, which accounts for less than 50 of the book’s 286 pages, does little to quench. The biographical sketches that accompany each artist portfolio are too brief and Gronert’s introduction is, largely, a straightforward (and highly selective) institutional history. The reader longs for another book – a narrative of a year among the studio’s artists.
By Nic Barlow, Caroline Holmes and Tim Knox. Garden Art Press, 256 pages, 286 color illustrations, 2008. ISBN 1-87067-356-5
If the art in Stendhal Syndrome does not make American readers of this book go crazy, the story of Herenplaats’ rapid growth might. The studio’s first exhibition, which was held at the Larens church in Rotterdam in 1991, drew 5,000 people. The same year, 30,000 people viewed Herenplaats’ artists work in the No Detour exhibition, which surveyed the work of mentally disabled artists across the Netherlands. A news team filmed artists at the studio and, according to Gronert, the artists “could be seen in action on every news program on TV.”
In the United States, writings on the environments of self-taught artists tend to place them within the outsider art context or, sometimes, within a specifically American tradition of individual expression.
Would it be possible to start a similar organization in a similarly mid-sized city in the United States and achieve such rapid success? Maybe. But first, someone needs to come up with a better description for organizations of this type. Calling them “studios for artists with mental disabilities”
Follies of Europe demonstrates a very different way of looking at these sites. Not only is their individualistic exuberance not distinctly American, but they belong to a tradition of highly personal outdoor extravaganzas going back at least to the 17th Century. Indeed, the book opens with reference to Roman gardens decorated with miniature temples and palaces, which are folly structures par excellence. The book is built around Nic Barlow’s fine photography, but it also presents fact-filled histories of each site that situates them within the relevant artistic/ architectural setting. It moves from neoclassical and baroque folly gardens
of great order and grandeur that spread through Europe in the 1600s and 1700s to wilder and wilder fantasies, some of well-known art brut status (France’s Le Palais Ideal, for example) and others of more contemporary vintage and artistic professional creation, but no less weird for it. Of course, as any neighbor can tell you, not everyone loves these things. Caroline Holmes, who contributed the text, shares a wonderful quote from Goethe on the 600-statue Villa Palagonia in Italy: This “Villa of Monsters” was in “bad taste and [the] folly of an eccentric mind,” the poet said. But the Villa Palagonia is, needless to say, one of the more compelling sites documented here, with its profusion of grotesque statues. Others of special interest include Ireland’s Larchill, with its shell-decorated tower and generally primitive construction; the sham ruins of Belvedere House, also in Ireland; and the fairy-tale undulating roofs of the Sheep’s Barn in England, one of the most stunning of the recent constructions. The book covers just a handful of brut sites, including La Maison Picassiette in Chartres, France, and the lesser-known John Fairnington cement menagerie in England. A number of the follies are very famous, including Antonio Gaudi’s early20th Century Parc Guell in Barcelona. All in all the collections of garden temples, isolated towers, excessively decorated fountains and oddly sculpted buildings demonstrate a long history of aggressively expressive eccentricity that isn’t unique to the self-taught or to any single country or social class. This particular collection only covers a fraction of these places, but it is still a great introduction to that broader tradition of artistic environments. – W I L L I A M S W I S LOW
36 THE OUTSIDER
LEE G O D I E 1908 – 1994
Lee Godie, Third Lady in Waiting (“winters in Chicago nearly cost me my life” verso) Pen and paint on canvas 18 ¼ x 17 ¾ inches
CARL HAMMER GALLERY 740 N. Wells Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654 312.266.8512 / HammerGall@aol.com / www.HammerGallery.com THE OUTSIDER 37
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