A p ublica t 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
Across the universe For Von Bruenchenhein, architecture and nature help bring order to the chaos
V o lum e 1 6 | I s s u e 1 | F all 1 1
Traveling man A fascination with flight fueled the colorful airships of Charles A.A. Dellschau
Doubleheader Intuit teams up with LUMA to present artistsâ€™ depictions of heaven and hell
EDI TOR Janet Franz ART D IRE CTI ON & DES IG N Lowercase, Inc. E XE CUT I VE C OMMI TTEE Ralph Concepcion, President Patrick Blackburn, Immediate Past President & Development Chair Gail Garcia Steffen, Treasurer Susann Craig, Secretary Kevin Cole, Marketing & Communications Chair Lisa Stone, Collections & Acquisitions Chair Jerry Stefl, Education Chair Jan Petry, Exhibits Chair
The Outsider F E At u r es
11 From the Wand of the Genii
By Lisa Stone Tower paintings to bone thrones, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s artwork explores the connection between us and it
Terry Glover, At-Large Member
21 Flights of fancy BOARD M E MBERS Cathryn Albrecht Matt Arient Keith Bodner Tracy Dillard Cheri Eisenberg Victor Espinosa Laura Fox Marjorie Freed Eugenie Johnson Bob Roth Judy Saslow Nikki Will Stein Terry Sweig David Syrek
ADVERT IS IN G SA L ES Cheri Eisenberg STAFF Cleo Wilson, Executive Director
By Tracy Baker-White To cross the plains: The Art and Life of Charles A.A. Dellschau
Interview by Janet Franz Intuit forges an unusual alliance with the Loyola University Museum of Art to present the exhibition HEAVEN+HELL
27 Angels and demons
29 Intuit: 20 years and counting
By Cleo Wilson Much has changed, but one thing remains constant: Our commitment to promoting outsider and self-taught art
By Kevin Cole For Intuit’s founders, the first 20 years have been a time of devotion, discovery and decisions
Robert Burnier, Program Director, Collections & Exhibitions Untitled (Abstract Patterns with Four Animals), 1950-55, Graphite, tempera, crayon, on paper, 36 x 24 in; 91.4 x 61 cm, NU 285.327
MARTÍN RAMÍREZ LANDSCAPES
OCTOBER 13—NOVEMBER 12, 2011
Carol Ng-He, Program Director, Education Heather Holbus, Development Associate Kevin Mulcahy, Membership Coordinator
02 ISBN 978-0-9823408-3-7 The Outsider is published once a year by Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, located at 756 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642. Prior to Fall 1996, Volume 1, Issue 1, The Outsider was published as In’tuit. The annual subscription rate is included with membership and the magazine is mailed to all members.
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D e pa r t m e n t s What’s Happening at Intuit
42 Thanks to Intuit’s Donors 43 Education 44 Recent Acquisitions and Promised Gifts 46 Book and Movie Reviews On the Cover: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983), Untitled #728, 1958. Oil on Masonite, 24 x 24 in. Private collection.
What’s Happening at Intuit
Intuit kicked off its 20th anniversary year with the exhibition Architecture of Hope—the Treasures of Intuit, curated by Roger Manley, who mined Intuit’s Permanent Collection for work by artists who create in response to life’s challenges. Photo: Cheri Eisenberg.
Twenty years ago, a handful of people gathered to discuss their growing interest in the works of outsider and self-taught artists. Little did they know that Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art would grow to become the standard-bearer for advocating and educating the public about intuitive, visionary, non-traditional and self-taught art. This is an exciting time to reflect on the history of the organization, to celebrate this important milestone and to continue to present exhibitions and educational programs that broaden the experience of self-taught and outsider art. HAPP Y B IRT H DAY TO US Our 20th birthday year kicked off with the curatorial vision and expertise of Roger Manley, director of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University, who mined Intuit’s
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Permanent Collection to select work for the Architecture of Hope—the Treasures of Intuit. In his curator’s statement, Manley wrote, “The theme not only hints at how self-taught artists often depict or create structures (and, in some cases, whole environments and imaginary worlds) in order to transform life’s difficulties into opportunities for artistic invention, but it also serves as a metaphor for Intuit as an organization entering its third decade as an internationally recognized center for selftaught art and creative expression.” We like that. Thanks, Roger, for a wonderful exhibition. O NE C OOL S HOW Our summer exhibition, Esta Chido Todo, translated “it’s all cool,” features the work of Raul Maldonado, a young Mexican immigrant from Hanover Park, Illinois, who creates large-scale works on 22-by28-inch poster board, completing one
board at a time on his drawing table. He assembled 81 poster boards to create the central piece that is 38 feet long and took two years to complete. His medium? Prismacolor pencils, which he wears down to stubs. The exhibition was curated by Susan Matthews, who first met the artist when he visited the Hanover Park Park District Art Center to lay out the work so he could see it assembled. W RITING’ S O N THE WALL Intuit’s Study Gallery closes the year with You Better Be Listening: Text In Self-Taught Art, curated by Matt Arient, a new Intuit board member who began visiting selftaught artists when he was in ovo. From street preachers to sermonizers and proselytizers of all persuasions, You Better Be Listening features artists who use written words as an integral part of their art. This exhibition runs through January 14, 2012. Come see what they have to say.
Thanks to an invitation from Mark Lyman, president of The Art Fair Company, The Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art debuted at Navy Pier in 2010, as part of SOFA Chicago. The fairs drew more than 30,000 visitors. Photo: Cheri Eisenberg.
E NDING WITH EVB If this is the year for Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, then there is no better way to close Intuit’s 2011 exhibition schedule. Curated by Lisa Stone, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: From the Wand of the Genii opens September 16 and will run through January 14, 2012. In this exhibition, Stone explores the dominant stimuli of nature, architecture, growth patterns and imaginative structures expressed in works in several mediums by this self-identified plant man, architect and innovator. S OFA, SO GOOD Thanks to his largesse and love of selftaught and outsider art, Mark Lyman, president of the Art Fair Company and producer of SOFA Chicago, invited us last year to bring The Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art to be part of SOFA Chicago. It has been a wonderful collaboration! So
much so that this year, we were part of SOFA West in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in August and will return for a bigger and better show at Navy Pier November 4 to 6. For more information, visit SOFA’s website at www.sofaexpo.com. PARTY TI ME No birthday can be complete without a celebration, and this year we plan to blow the roof off at Intuit’s 20/20 Visionary Ball. Reaching out to past board members and supporters far and wide, we scheduled the party for Saturday November 5 to coincide with the Intuit Show. Come make a weekend of it. We’d love to see you.
INT U I T N E E DS YO U Today, as the financial markets are in turmoil and the global economy seems to be on the edge of precipice, your donation to Intuit is an excellent return on your investment. Write our next chapter with your check, bequest or however you choose. Good things do come in small packages. — Cl eo W il son, E xecu tiv e Dir ector
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OUTSIDERFOLKARTFAIR.COM Thornton Dial, Blood of the Fish, 1997 fabric, rope, industrial sealing compound, paint on canvas, mounted on wood, 48 x 48 Represented by Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago IL
PRESENTED AT NAVY PIER SOFA CHICAGO 2011
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Young Man, ca. 1972
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A.G. Rizzoli, Mrs. Geo. Powleson Symbolically Portrayed/The Mother Tower of Jewels, 1935, ink on rag paper, 37 x 35"
The Ames Gallery features works by contemporary visionary, self-taught and outsider artists including A.G. Rizzoli, Dwight Mackintosh, Deborah Barrett, Ted Gordon, and Alex Maldonado; as well as early Americana including articulated figures, carvings,
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Visit us at www.amesgallery.com 6 The Outsider
See the Marionettes of Richard McClead at the Intuit Show Nov. 3-6, 2011 at Navy Pier
MICHAEL NOLAND Rebecca Kinkead + Daniel Kim September 9 – October 29, 2011
MICHEL NEDJAR Michael Noland + David Csicsko November 4 – December 30, 2011
CARLO ZINELLI Intuit Show of Folk + Outsider Art November 4 – November 6, 2011
300 W. Superior Chicago, IL 60654 P 312 943 0530 F 312 943 3970 Tuesday – Friday 11 to 6 Saturday 11 to 5 More information at www.jsaslowgallery.com The Outsider 7
AT T H E INTUIT SHOW
AT THE GALLERY
N ovember 4–6
OPENING FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 5:3 0 – 8 : 0 0pm
Navy Pier’ s F estival Hall , C hicago WORKS BY
R E S P E C T:
T H O R N T O N D I A L A N D G E E ’S BEND
THROUGH JANUARY 28, 201 2
MINNIE EVANS HOWARD FINSTER QUILTS OF GEE’S BEND NELLIE MAE ROWE SIMON SPARROW CHARLES STEFFEN MOSE TOLLIVER BILL TRAYLOR CHARLIE WILLETO SNAP WYATT JOSEPH YOAKUM ALBERT ZAHN Charlie Willeto, Navajo Man, ca. 1960s, house paint on wood, height: 24 1/2 inches
Mary Lee Bendolph, Stripes and Housetop Blocks, 2005, cotton and linen, 71 x 83 inches
R U S S E L L B O W M A N A RT A D V I SO RY 311 WEST SUPERIOR, SUITE 115 CHICAGO, IL 60654 3 1 2 7 5 1 - 9 5 0 0 FA X 3 1 2 7 5 1 - 9 5 7 2 W W W. B O W M A N A RT. C O M
From the Blacksmith’s Hands: African Metal November 2 - December 3, 2011 OPENING: Wednesday November 2 5:30 - 8:00 PM
8 The Outsider DOUGLAS DAWSON GALLERY
400 North Morgan, Chicago
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From the Wand of the Genii Tower paintings to bone thrones, Von Bruenchenhein’s art explores the connection between us and it B Y L IS A STONE
In 2008, while leafing through Issue 28, the “Bones” issue, of Cabinet magazine, a slender bookmark tipped into the pages caught my eye. Sure enough, it featured one of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s remarkable bone towers. The tower’s incredible intricacy was clear even at this muchreduced scale. I had been ruminating on the persistence of towers in Von Bruenchenhein’s work for some time and was thrilled to find this little bookmark, evidence of a broader consciousness of his work and an unexpected souvenir of his hard-to-believe and hard-to-forget bone tower sculptures. Von Bruenchenhein self-identified as both architect and bone artifacts constructor (among several other significant attributes), and his bone towers encapsulate the dominant stimuli of nature and architecture evident in so much of his work. The bookmark stayed with me, in and out of various books for a few years, as a reminder of the growth patterns and imaginative structures that he wove into work: first in paintings from the 1950s and into the ‘60s, later in sculpture of bone, ceramic and concrete, and culminating in his last works, a sequence of paintings addressing an imagined architectural age.1
War Memorial Temple of Art, 1954. Oil on Masonite, 24 x 24 in. Collection of Jim Zanzi.
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prominent museum and private collections, has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibits, and is explored in several exhibition catalogues. In 2011 he was awarded a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award by the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Wisconsin Visual Artists, and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.3 Because he was selftaught (and broadly self-educated), and because his work was not informed by or directed toward the “art world” currents of his time, Von Bruenchenhein has been identified as an outsider artist. However, as the bookmark and several recent exhibits attest,4 his work justifiably slips beyond
the outsider framework into mainstream contemporary arenas as well. For about 40 years Von Bruenchenhein worked tenaciously, producing many thousands of artworks: photographs, paintings and sculptures in a variety of media. He was a prodigious writer, recording his thoughts, ideas and theories in poetry and prose. Beginning in the early 1940s he began a mode of working in which he explored subjects and ideas, intensively, in specific media. These focused bodies of work reflect a disciplined artistic process in which he probed the expression of an idea through a medium until it reached
its culmination. Leitmotifs within specific sequences and media would then shapeshift into other sequences and media. Von Bruenchenhein’s working process can be likened to that of the lifelong gardener: toiling in the same place over a period of many years, in creative interaction with growing things, defined by changing seasons and never exactly certain who’s in charge, gardener or garden. In contemporary jargon, Von Bruenchenhein was “based” in Milwaukee. He was actually, truly based at 514 South 94th Place. Home and garden, inside and out, were taken over as work places, effectively
Untitled (concrete mask/ornaments and plants), c. 1960-1970. From 35mm color transparency. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery.
This essay is written on the occasion of the exhibition Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: From the Wand of the Genii at Intuit (September 16, 2011 – January 14, 2012). “Genii” refers to the artist’s name for his creative ego. The show comes on the heels of exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum and the American Visionary Art Museum. Both shows opened in the centennial year of Von Bruenchenhein’s birth.2 The year 1910 was auspicious for grand appearances from the universe, and Von Bruenchenhein was proud to have appeared in the same year that Halley’s Comet passed our way. The comet had been seen from earth and recorded in works of art for millennia, but it was photographed for the first time in 1910. Images of this magnificent trajectory of light and matter—a recurrent,
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resplendent greeting to our sphere from the universe beyond—must have stirred his soul and fueled his imagination. Von Bruenchenhein grew into a full-time artist and spent his adult life as a writer, thinker and maker of extraordinary objects. At the crux of his many endeavors was a concern with the cosmic, and the reflections and connections between the cosmos and life on earth, between the Big Bang and the flower, between us and it. For most of his adult life, imagining, conceiving and making art was all consuming. Von Bruenchenhein left an enormous oeuvre, astonishing in its scope and originality, for the intensity of focus on serial works in various media and for its panoptic nature. He was enormously
curious about the order, structure and nature of our world and the universe beyond, and he worked continuously to distill his perceptions of this duality into things he made by hand with ordinary materials. The exhibition and this essay honor Von Bruenchenhein’s belief in his powers, in what he could create with “the wand of the genii.” Von Bruenchenhein died in 1983, missing the return of Halley’s Comet by three years. He had yearned for public recognition of his work, and although it eluded him in his lifetime, his work has entered and remains in our contemporary cultural orbit. Since his work was brought into the public eye, shortly after his death, it has achieved considerable acclaim and is represented in
Left: Untitled (flowering cacti), c. 1940-50. Photo, 4 ½ x 2 ¾ in. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery. Right: Untitled (tabletop arrangement), c. 1940-50. Photograph, 4 ½ x 2 ¾ in. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery.
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were cordoned off with patterned fabric, serving as sets for photographing his wife, Marie. Von Bruenchenhein spongepainted walls in various rooms with bright colors, creating rich backgrounds for tabletop arrangements of ceramic and bone sculpture. His work accumulated over the decades and the home reflected a life fully given over to his work. It’s evident that Von Bruenchenhein’s home was his art world, the art world. During his lifetime, the exterior, public art world remained, unfortunately, out of reach, a world away. In 1954 Von Bruenchenhein created a small series of paintings depicting the annihilating power of the hydrogen bomb. Following these personifications of atomic devastation, in the same year he began a sequence of paintings that occupied his mind and hands until about 1960, resulting in an extraordinary body of work. To realize his idea he prepared surfaces with white enamel. The dried enamel made for slick surfaces on which he masterfully manipulated oil paint, using his fingers and a host of household objects. Von Bruenchenhein became a finger-painting virtuoso. Eliminating the paintbrush (for the most part) closed the distance between artist and paint, and from this point forward he engaged a tactile, hands-on approach to his works in all media.
Untitled #556, 1957. Oil on Masonite, 24 x 24 in. Collection of Mike and Cindy Noland.
erasing the presumed lines between home and studio, and between art and life. The modest house was painted in a patchwork of pastel colors determined by chance. Using gifts of cast-off paint from a friend, Von Bruenchenhein applied pleasingly random areas of color to the house, without a care for ordinary conventions of taste. As if signing his work, he mounted,
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in handmade wood letters, EUGENE VON BRUENCHENHEIN, on the front of the house. As a self-identified horticulturalist and plant man, he was avidly interested in cacti and was a member of a local cactus club—one of his few known social engagements. He built a garden shed for his collection of prickly desert plants. His photos of cacti and flowers provide
candid glimpses into his interest in the forms and structures of plants, which informed many of his paintings and nearly all his ceramic sculptures. Inside, the house overflowed with Von Bruenchenhein’s work. Early photos of tabletops filled with dozens of his tiny ceramic flowers show a concern with the still life. For years, areas of the house
Most paintings from this period are dated and numbered and most have titles, giving us a chronicle of the progression of his ideas. Among the early works are several paintings featuring upwardreaching architectural forms emerging from fiery land and skyscapes. Pushing paint with his fingers, Von Bruenchenhein created repetitions of mounds and spires, transforming mountains into amorphous grotto-esque castles with cave-like entries, bursting with fountain-like thrusts of color and light. This homegrown organic architecture made of conical, vertical forms anticipates Von Bruenchenhein’s late-career series of tower paintings, a full exploration of an architectural age that also comprises repetitive vertical elements. In a significant work from 1954, War
Memorial Temple of Art, his imagined primordial era accommodates the human need for shelter, for places of repose, for spiritual space, for memorializing the tribe and for art. Here, Von Bruenchenhein lays the groundwork for civilization. In addition to the temple/tower works in this period, other paintings dance around concepts of physics—lines of force confined, lines of
force released—and there’s a cosmic clock ticking in the background of several works summoning up the element of time. As if the early works in this period were warm-up exercises, the works that followed lead away from civilization, stumbling as it were, headlong into the realm of nuclear physics. Paintings explode
Top: Untitled (ceramic crowns, bone thrones), c. 1960-1970. From 35mm color transparency. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery. Above: Untitled (ceramic sculpture and concrete mask/ornaments), c. 1960-1970. From 35mm color transparency. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery.
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into a pictorialization of macro/microcosmic depictions of matter. Possibly preceding the formation of the planets, and earth as we know it, brilliantly energetic paintings of what appear to be either (or simultaneously) marine or spacescapes, pulsate with primal energy. The occasional imagined creatures or plant forms, swirling through ether space, suggest cosmic creation—life forms emerging from the vivid void. In this work Von Bruenchenhein parallels, artistically, the sincere explorations of “outsider” theorists working on the fringe of the scientific academy. He attempted to visualize, where others have tried to theorize, the mystical inner workings of the universe, and serve it up in a language more accessible than the arcane world of mainstream physics offers.5 Following the early H-Bomb paintings and fueled by his awareness of the magnitude of atomic power, this body of work may reflect Von Bruenchenhein’s decision to focus on explosively creative forces rather than destructive ones. He sustained this creative continuum, in which he produced his best-known paintings, until it ran its course in the early 1960s. In his paintings from 1954 to the early 1960s, Von Bruenchenhein evoked an intoxicating sense of nature in the era of cosmic creation. In his ceramic sculpture (created c. 1940–1980), and later in his bone sculpture (1960s–1980s), he focused his attention on specific natural forms and growth processes here on earth. Diversity within the production of multiples ruled his sculptural construction. Using clay dug by hand, he first created variations on floral shapes; these evolved into a series of botanically inspired leaf-form vases and crowns. Von Bruenchenhein’s identity as “Plant Man” reflected his earlier work in a florist shop, his involvement in the local cactus club, and also was an integral aspect of his artistic expression. He believed his family was descended from royalty from the region of Lower Saxony and referred to this lineage in writings and inscriptions, such as one on a selfportrait photo: “Edward the First, King of Lesser Lands + Time Cannot Touch.” His
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preoccupation with nature and nobility converged in a series of ceramic crowns (c. 1965–1975), created, but appearing to have grown—like his equally intriguing series of ceramic vessels—out of overlapping leaf-forms. Fabulous in their physical fragility, the leafy crowns are fit for characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As inherently delicate objects, they weren’t created to be worn, but are symbolic musings on the laurel, nature’s noble headpiece. In addition to the ceramic crowns, Von Bruenchenhein’s concern with the trappings and symbols of royalty is reflected in his series of bone chairs (c. late 1960s), as their elaborate designs and richly painted surfaces suggest lofty little thrones. Using bleached and dried fowl bones, he created exquisite studies of chair structure, analogs to the human figure in skeletal form. Generally using leg and wing bones for chair legs and arms, and vertebrae for the backs, the chairs correspond to the human form they’re designed to support (albeit in miniature). With his characteristic mode of exploring a form serially, Von Bruenchenhein created dozens of bone thrones, no two alike. They were found hanging on walls and strung from lines of wire throughout the house and garden, oddly accentuating their sense of being both ideas and objects, as well as human constructions ruled by an organic process, more grown than made. In the 1970s Von Bruenchenhein’s manipulation of bone evolved from forms that rest on the ground to forms that reach to the sky. Elaborating on the construction of his bone thrones, and challenging his ability to build impossibly delicate objects, he created a series of intricate spires. Resting on bases of structurally stronger leg, wing and breastbones, the towers grow into lacelike, openwork shafts of vertebrae and smaller bones. Like the Watts Towers of Sam Rodia (which he was aware of), the bone towers conflate architecture and sculpture, expressing fundamental qualities of both. A few of the towers support hollow, painted eggshells near or
atop the spires, bringing the bone towers to a perfect metaphorical conclusion. Relating egg to bone, they embody the delicate balance, facts and mysteries of life: birth, growth and death (and also the popularly posed “chicken or egg” question), and resting atop the bone towers, the eggs evoke the hope and potential of new life. In the early 1960s Von Bruenchenhein began working with more durable material and developed a series of concrete masks. Constructed on pieces of cardboard in his driveway, his pliable mortar works formed into exoticized portraits with elaborate headdresses. Although other accounts describe these as having been cast in crude forms, Von Bruenchenhein’s friend Dan Nycz recalled seeing him build the works freehand.6 These concrete bas-relief sculptures evoke architectural ornaments created to adorn grand, ceremonial temples. Not having one of his own, he leaned them against the foundation of his house, where they functioned as guardians of Eugene and Marie’s private kingdom. Von Bruenchenhein returned to painting in 1977, after about a 14-year hiatus, stepping gingerly into the media with works titled “repulse phase” or “rejection phase.” The titles are a candid admission of his artistic struggle, and perhaps his faith that it was just an interim period. The paintings are oddly beautiful, resembling a kind of amoebic spin art constrained in painted turquoise frames. From these hesitant works Von Bruenchenhein returned to the tower one last time in his final series of paintings, a sustained exploration of a new architectural age, created from 1977 to 1981. Underscoring his identity as an architect, the series conceives of an architectural vision for an age of colored stone, glass and steel. In painting after painting, colorful tower complexes appear in daylight, against bright blue sky and clouds. To “build” the towers and achieve the illusion of structure, verticality and lightness, he devised a method of dipping
Untitled (exterior of Von Bruenchenhein house with bone thrones suspended from wire; detail), c. 1960–70. From 35mm color transparency. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection.
section-edges of corrugated cardboard in paint, then printing them repeatedly on cardboard sheets prepared with white enamel. One of the earliest works, Imperial Wall Enclosed aerial Walkways plastic glass, Dec 28, 1977, engages color as a defining architectural element. The work is one of the most realistic of the towers, with a visible ground plane and fireworks exploding in the distance. The painting brings to mind many images of the 193334 Century of Progress Fair in Chicago. The Fair was an architectural spectacle (described by Nelson Algren as “a zigzag riot of fakery”7), known especially for its host of moderne buildings awash in colored lights at night. It’s very likely that Von Bruenchenhein visited the Fair as a 23- or 24-year-old, and he certainly would have seen the images of it over the years. Paintings in this series also are strikingly similar to the light-bathed, chimerical skyline of Emerald City in the film The Wizard of Oz, and he engaged a few Ozian titles, such as Emerald Complex and Emerald Tower complex. Von Bruenchenhein’s late tower paintings bring to mind the visionary writings
of German Expressionist author Paul Scheerbart (1863–1915), who imagined an international architectural realm of glass and light, described in his books Grey Cloth and Glass Architecture, both from 1914. The futuristic Grey Cloth begins, curiously, in mid-20th Century Chicago, in a fabulous architectural setting of colored glass that the protagonist imagines as a new age of architecture. The project of this architectural age unfolds as he travels to the Fiji Islands, the South Pole, Borneo, Japan, the Himalayas, Ceylon and Arabia, and “…everything ends happily with the acceptance of glass architecture around the globe.”8 In Glass Architecture he expounds on the attributes and the need for a new architectural age of colored glass architecture. Like Scheerbart’s and other visions of redemptive architectural ages, Von Bruenchenhein’s project is vast in scope and untethered to reality as we know it. The essence of his project as an architecture of hope is evident in his titles, which read like poetic litanies, urging his imagined cities into being. Through titles such as Peace Complex and Liberty Complex in the Clouds we glean a utopian purpose to the project. New formula
erosion proof colored stone on steel frame work demonstrates that he was exploring practical and material aspects of the architectural age. Tribute to Thomas Edison for light in the night celebrates invention, the importance of human ingenuity in furthering architectural advancements and the age of electricity. Because this series suggests a futuristic architectural age, it’s interesting to consider the architecture of Von Bruenchenhein’s time, and what some of his references may have been. The year 1977 brought the completion of two internationally acclaimed buildings, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (notable for its colorful structural transparency), and the World Trade Center—the iconic towers of our time. The late 1970s and early ‘80s also brought a plethora of visually mind-numbing steel and glass skyscrapers that flaunted corporate vanity across skylines the world over (of which there were a few in Milwaukee). He may have imagined a more beautiful and uplifting solution to the age of unimaginative glass and steel towers. Von Bruenchenhein’s tower paintings present an optimistic view of grand, colorful massed forms rising to pinnacles
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in the clouds. The ground plane is noticeably absent in most of the works— the towers exist in the realm of the sky, and convey a feeling of lightness, ascension. As the series he focused on toward the end of his life they also can be read as a prelude to another dimension, an imagined, utopic place for the inevitable, unknowable, next.9 n
Sincere thanks to Caelan Mys and Lewis Greenblatt, the Eugene Von Bruenchenhein Estate; Carl Hammer and Yolanda Farias, Carl Hammer Gallery; Ruth Kohler, Christine End, Leslie Umberger, Amy Ruffo and Larry Donoval, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Dana Boutin; and, especially, Dan Nycz, for befriending Von Bruenchenhein and bringing his work to light.
Lisa Stone is curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was astonished when Von Bruenchenhein’s art was discovered in 1983, awestruck when the John Michael Kohler Arts Center rescued it and worked for Carl Hammer Gallery when CHG began representing the Von Bruenchenhein estate in 1986. The exhibit and this essay are not intended as a comprehensive examination of Von Bruenchenhein’s work. The artist made many thousands of photographs, primarily of his wife, Marie. I did not attempt to address this outstanding and fundamental aspect of his oeuvre in this project. 1
“Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: ‘Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Innovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher,’ ” The American Folk Art Museum, New York, November 4, 2010–July 9, 2011.
“Out of This World: A Centennial Celebration of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein,” American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, March 2, 2010–March 2, 2012.
3 Von Bruenchenhein was in good company for the 2011 Visual Lifetime Achievement Awards. Self-taught artists Fred Smith and Tom Every also received awards.
4 “Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay” (group show), Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2009.
“After Nature” (group show), New Museum, New York, 2008. “Kim Keever, Graham Parks, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein” (group show), Feigen Contemporary, New York, 2007. 5 Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything by Margaret Wertheim (Walker and Co., New York, publication date November 2011) is an excellent study of so-called “outsider” theorists.
Conversation with the author, 1980s.
7 Bettina Drew, Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1989), 78.
8 Rosemarie Haag Bletter, “Paul Scheerbart’s Architectural Fantasies,” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 34, No. 2. (May, 1975), 83-97.
9 Parts of this essay and much of the section on Von Bruenchenhein’s last tower paintings were adapted from the essay by this author, “ ‘…made for love of creation’: Thoughts on the Art of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein,” Folk Art Magazine, Fall 2007, 82-90.
Left: Imperial Wall Enclosed aerial Walkways plastic glass, 1977. Oil on corrugated cardboard and masking tape, 39 ½ x 24 ¼ in. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery. Photo: William H. Bengtson. Right: Complex of Stone and Steel Imperial City Distant View,1978. Oil on corrugated cardboard with painted wood frame, 33 3/4 x 29 ½ in. Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, courtesy of Carl Hammer Gallery. Photo: William H. Bengtson.
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Untitled (bone towers), c. 1979. Fowl bones, glue, paint and mixed media, 29 ¼ by 8 ½ by 7 ½ in. to 54 by 8 3/8 by 7 ¼ in. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection.
Flights of fancy To cross the plains: The Art and Life of Charles A.A. Dellschau B Y T R ACY B A KE R - W H ITE
Just before Christmas in 1899, Charles A.A. Dellschau, a 69-year-old retired clerk in a Houston saddlery store, was working on a project in his spare time: writing and illustrating two books of memoirs—one in English and the other in German. These were the artist’s first known works and the beginning of a continuous artistic outpouring that lasted more than 20 years until his death at the age of 92. The books reveal the amazing story of one of the earliest documented self-taught artists in America, whose works will be shown in the exhibition The Art and Life of Charles A.A. Dellschau from September 12 – December 31, 2012 at Intuit.
Doobeleen Peter #1993, 1909. Mixed media on paper, 19 x 17.5 in. Collection of John and Susan Jerit. Photo courtesy of Stephen Romano and Ricco Maresca Gallery.
The Ou tsider 21
Dellschau was born in 1830, emigrated to the United States from Germany and landed in Galveston, Texas, in 1849. Within a few years of his arrival, and presumably after hearing tales of Gold Rush fortunes, he pressed on to the Golden State of California. But after several years with no great fortune, Dellschau returned to south Texas, where he had been offered a steady job. He married, raised a family and worked for 30 years in his father’s trade, as a butcher. Life in the 19th Century was hard, however, and by 1893 Dellschau had
and acquaintances from long ago put to paper during free evening hours. ..” 2 The memoirs refer back to the time when Dellschau was a young man in the gold fields of Sonora, California. They include drawings of the miners and many illustrations of balloon-like airships. Dellschau claims these airships were based on the ideas of a group of friends called the Sonora Aero Club, who met on Friday nights in Madam Glanze’s saloon. In the late 1850s this group of friends drank and discussed proposals for an
speaker’s stand at least once a quarter and thoroughly exercise their jaws.” 5 There are no census or tax records to prove that Charles Dellschau went to Sonora, but it seems evident that he was there. His artworks refer to a number of historically documented persons, places and events. For example, he mentions a man named Fred Freund, a well-documented furniture maker, undertaker and owner of the Yosemite Hotel. He also refers to the local sheriff by name, and he gives his own employers as John Wolfling and Charley Mannors, who were partners in a cattle ranch and the Centre Market.6 Drinking clubs were the order of the day during the Gold Rush period—in fact, the famous fraternal order E Clampus Vitus had its origins in the Sonora area during that very period. Ballooning was all the rage as well. Local newspapers published frequent articles about the national and international exploits of famous aeronauts like John Wise, John Steiner and others. Period newspaper articles also confirm that a gentleman known as Professor Samuel Wilson made multiple attempts at flying a balloon in the Bay Area during the 1850s.7
Navy Sale of Seaplanes #4052, 1920. Mixed media on paper, 17 x 17.5 in. Private collection, New York. Photo courtesy of Stephen Romano.
suffered the tragic losses of two wives and three of his four children. He moved to Houston with his last remaining child, stepdaughter Elizabeth Stelzig, and worked in her husband’s business selling saddles and leather goods until he retired.1 Retirement provided Dellschau the time he needed to fully embark on his project, which he described as “Reminiscences of real and experimental work” and “True happenings, . . . recollections of friends
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airship capable of transcontinental flight. In a later work Dellschau wrote: “The main Object—[was] to be able to cross the plains—and avoid Indian—or white mans stares.”3 The meetings of the Sonora Aero Club sound like raucous affairs. There was certainly much drinking and Dellschau writes: “Many ideas were talked about and judged, and there was always hilarity.” 4 Members were required to present ideas quarterly. The “. . . by-laws state that all members are obligated to take the
While the notion of a group of friends joining together on Friday nights to propose ideas for transcontinental travel does not seem too far-fetched, the existence of the Sonora Aero Club still remains in question. Not one of the more than 60 club members named by Dellschau has been securely documented in historical sources. Some names appear to be possible matches in later documents, but nothing securely locates any member of the club in Sonora between 1856 and 1860. Further complicating matters is the fact that Dellschau seems to mix up names from different time periods in his life with his California tale.8 In the end, it appears that Dellschau’s story of the Sonora Aero Club may be a combination of reality and spun-out fantasy, despite his claims to the contrary. Dellschau created painted illustrations of the Sonora Aero Club’s ideas at a rate of
approximately one every two or three days over the next 20 years. After the first books of memoirs, or “Reminiscences,” there is an eight-year gap until the next known works, which begin in 1908. Dellschau numbered his works from the later period beginning with the serial number 1601, so one can surmise that he created works in the intervening time, but they have been lost. Between 1908 and 1921 the artist created 12 more hand-bound books full of airships and newspaper collages.
he could find on the development of ballooning, directional airships, the dirigible and the airplane. Articles about famous early pilots like Count Zeppelin, Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Wright brothers abound in Dellschau’s works, clipped from sources including the Houston Post, Scientific American and a local Germanlanguage newspaper. During World War I, Dellschau included clippings related to weaponry and war, in addition to covering advancements
that he worked. Between the early “Reminiscences” and the later 12 handbound books, Dellschau’s work matured stylistically. By 1908, he had adopted a strict schema, or format, for his Aero and Press Bloom pages that he used consistently from then on. This schema included a striped circus tent-like border, central image, and serial numbering and dating system. As the first decade of the 20th Century saw the development of cars, airplanes, radio telegraphy and innumerable other inventions, one wonders if this artistic
Dellschau’s “Aeros” resemble traditional hot air balloons augmented with fantastic visual details. All in all, he painted dozens of variously named airships, depicting them from a variety of perspectives—from the side, from above, from below, in flight and at rest. He used butchers’ terms to name these unusual viewpoints—flanck, center cut, cross cutt. He signed his work, most often, “drawn by C.A.A. Dellschau,” but attributed the designs to various members of the club, for example, “Proposer Gustav Freyer.” He called the works “free studias” from “clubworck.” While the original memoirs emphasize storytelling with illustration, the later works have comparatively little text and focus on the airships, or Aero designs, themselves. The later works sometimes include shorter handwritten inscriptions referring to the Aero depicted, or entertaining quips. Dellschau’s sense of humor often comes out in these inscriptions: for example, he calls one airship a joke and names it the “Aero Won’t Go.” The paintings are on various sizes of fairly low-quality paper, and all are done with pencil, ink and watercolor. Interspersed between the hand-painted Aeros are pages of collaged newspaper clippings called “Press Blooms.” Over the many years that Dellschau worked, he included thousands of newspaper clippings related to political events and technological advances in aviation. His obsession with the invention of flight led him to include all the clippings
Aero Gander Up #4527, 1919. Mixed media on paper, 17 x 32 in. Private collection, New York. Photo courtesy of Stephen Romano.
in air technology. The painted Aeros of this period take on a darker quality, with somber and solitary pilots. Between 1908 and 1918, Dellschau often included a coded banner of the letters DM=XO at the top of his works, along with lengthy handwritten sections of code inscriptions. DM=XO may have been a code name for the club itself. Dellschau labeled one of his drawings “A DM=XO Club Debate Studia . . . Drawing by C.A.A. Dellschau.”10 Dellschau’s use of secret code on the works may reflect the paranoia of the times as the war approached. It may also reflect a sense of ambivalence on the part of the artist—after all, he was a German immigrant living in a time of significant anti-German sentiment. The style of Dellschau’s painting evolved significantly over the 20 years
convention was an unconscious attempt by Dellschau to provide order in his own rapidly changing world. Art historian Lyle Rexer notes that Dellschau’s systematic compositions have “all the earmarks of a delusional system: compulsive detail, the impulse to subordinate all aspects of experience to a single scheme or preoccupation, and the steady elaboration of that scheme over many years.”11 While the earliest manuscripts were created in a limited and tentative palette, the later works were executed in a brighter and more painterly style. As the artist aged into his 80s and 90s, there is some deterioration of motor control evident in the works, but his vision and purpose in creating the images remains clear.
The Outsider 23
Charles Dellschau’s last known works date from 1921, two years before his death. His books of painted airship designs and press blooms were stored in the attic of the Stelzig home in Houston for approximately 40 years. After a fire in the 1960s, the 12 hand-bound books of drawings were heaved out on the street curb and salvaged by a junk dealer named Fred Washington. Mary Jane Victor, an art history student, discovered them in Washington’s shop and took four of the books to show to art patroness Dominique de Menil. Menil bought the four books and the remaining eight were purchased by a graphic artist named Pete Navarro, who sold four to the San Antonio Museum Association and the remainder to private individuals.12 Dellschau’s works have since been collected by numerous other museums interested in folk and outsider art, including the American Folk Art Museum, the High Museum, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In comparing Dellschau to other outsider or self-taught visionary artists, there are obvious parallels. Dellschau did not consider himself an artist; he called himself a draftsman for a group of inventors. His project was completely authentic in the sense that he created only for himself and was unaware or unconcerned with making his drawings as works of art in a particular style. He was completely unselfconscious in the artistic process, referring to it only in the context of technology and not in the context of art. Stylistically, Dellschau’s work is comparable to that of many other outsider artists in its dense ornamentation, serial production and numbering systems. Like Adolf Wölfli, Henry Darger, Aloïse Corbaz and Martín Ramírez, Dellschau also used collaged images from popular sources to inform his visual world. While he may have been an outsider to the fine art world, he was firmly grounded in the world of contemporary popular imagery. Roger Cardinal, who coined the term “outsider,” describes the artistic process in developing ideas as a form of “tinkering” or
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“fussing” with the works. He notes that A.G. Rizzoli was like Wölfli in “. . . refusing to let well enough alone: he loves to review the finished piece, to muse upon it, to tinker a little longer.”13 Dellschau created, tinkered and fussed over his airships for 20 years with amazing intensity and drive. Numerous outsider artists have been documented in mental hospitals and jails with a variety of diagnoses, including obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. Dellschau was never institutionalized, but his mixing up of names, fixation on advancements in aviation and obsessive process raise questions about whether he could distinguish between reality and fantasy. At the beginning of his project in 1899, Dellschau convincingly declares the drawings to represent “real and experimental work,” but by 1920, a number of works poignantly include phrases like “Dream and Real.”14 Dellschau ‘s death certificate lists the cause of death as arteriosclerosis. Peter Rogerson points out in a recent review of the book Secrets of Dellschau that during the early 1900s arteriosclerosis was considered a cause of dementia.15 In fact, a 1915 psychiatric textbook includes the following: “. . . arteriosclerosis may be associated with the characteristic senile changes of the nervous tissue. . . . Alzheimer speaks of these cases as ‘Senile Decay.’ ”16 So perhaps the use of the term arteriosclerosis was a contemporary synonym for dementia. Regardless of the diagnosis at the time of his death, however, his stepdaughter chose to care for him at home until the very end of his life. Charles A.A. Dellschau’s works reflect an honest enthusiasm for the intellectual advancements prevalent at the turn of the century. Whether products of obsessive compulsion, old age dementia or mere eccentricity, this artist’s works occupy a unique place in early 20th Century Americana—the creative outpouring of a German immigrant fascinated by the
technological advancements in flight, and filled with a sense of adventure in “crossing the plains” of the American West. n Note: This article is an abridged version of a catalogue essay that will accompany the exhibition The Art and Life of Charles A.A. Dellschau, which will be shown at Intuit from September 12 – December 31, 2012.
Tracy Baker-White is an artist and independent curator. While serving as director of public interpretation at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Baker-White received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the works of Charles A. A. Dellschau.
Dellschau’s emigration and life in Texas are discussed in my article “The Secret Life of Charles A.A. Dellschau,” Folk Art Magazine, Fall, 2000, p. 48-50.
Dellschau, German Reminiscences, Part I, pp. 1-3. The original translation of the German Reminiscences Parts I and II was provided to me by W.M. Von Maszewski and typed by Clint Drake of the George Memorial Library. An earlier edited version of these translations was provided to me by William Steen.
3 Dellschau, Untitled Press Bloom, San Antonio Museum of Art, 79.20.134P.152V.
Dellschau. German Reminiscences, Part I, p. 74
Dellschau, German Reminiscences, Part I, p. 58.
Dellschau, German Reminiscences, Part II. Thanks to Pat Perry of the Tuolumne County Historical Society for information on Sheriff Stewart, Fred Freund, John Wolfling and Charley Mannors.
7 The California Digital Newspaper Collection is an invaluable online tool in searching for information related to ballooning during the period. Numerous articles appear related to Professor Wilson and other aeronauts.
Baker-White, Folk Art Magazine, Fall, 2000, p. 53.
Dellschau, Aero Won’t Go, Drawing #2107, San Antonio Museum of Art.
Dellschau, Max Miser’s Constant Aero Buster, Drawing Number 2550, April 27, 1912, San Antonio Museum of Art, 79.20.134P.150V.
Rexer, Lyle. How to Look at Outsider Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY 2005, p. 125.
Greenwood, Cynthia. “Secrets of the Sonora Aero Club,” Houston Press, December 10, 1998.
Roger Cardinal in The Artist Outsider: Creativity and the Boundaries of Culture, Michael D. Hall and Eugene W. Metcalf, Jr. with Roger Cardinal, eds. Washington D.C. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994, p. 29.
Dellschau, Dream and Real, Drawing Number 4802, April 27, 1920. Illustrated in Raw Vision, #30, Spring, 2000, p. 42.
Diefendorf, A. Ross. Clinical Psychiatry: A Textbook for Students and Physicians Abstracted and Adapted from the Seventh German Edition of Kraepelin’s “Lehrbuch Der Psychiatrie”, MacMillan Co., NY 1915, P. 334.
Sexion Bomber #4514, 1919. Mixed media on paper, 17 x 18 in. Collection of Kevin O’Rourke, MD. Photo courtesy of Stephen Romano.
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Angels and demons Intuit forges an unusual alliance with LUMA to present the exhibition Heaven + Hell to do with heaven—not so much with hell! Molly, as co-curator, how have you and Jan Petry gone about finding work for the exhibition?
Howard Finster (1916-2001), Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock #3087, 1983. Tractor enamel on plywood, 28 by 48 in. Arient Family Collection. Photo: Jim Prinz.
In 2012, Intuit will present the exhibition HEAVEN+HELL in collaboration with the Loyola University Museum of Art. The show will be divided into two parts, with HEAVEN residing at LUMA and HELL at Intuit. To learn a little more about this unusual joint exhibition, The Outsider’s Janet Franz spoke to Pamela Ambrose, director of cultural affairs for LUMA, and the museum’s Molly Tarbell, who is co-curating the exhibition with Jan Petry, Intuit’s exhibits chair. I’m told that you had wanted to collaborate with Intuit on an exhibition for awhile. What was the attraction? PA: There are several things. First, on a professional level I have a history of being involved in self-taught and outsider art from years ago when I was director of a gallery in New York that handled this kind of material. One of the things I noticed then was that there was a predominance of thematic subject matter that has to do with heaven and hell and purgatory. I’m a great admirer of Intuit and there had not been an opportunity to work with them except for some special events. So when I started 26 The Ou tsid er
thinking of a show focused on imagery related to the hereafter, I thought, what would be a better organization to partner with than Intuit? Then we brought Molly Tarbell in to begin working on it and Molly and Jan Petry are now co-curating the exhibition. How did you come to expand the original concept of doing a show about heaven to also include depictions of hell? PA: I remember being in New York and talking to Ricco Maresca Gallery two or three years ago and saying that there’s such art history revolving around images of heaven, especially in Western art, and one of the owners said, well, you should really do hell too. But after thinking about it I concluded that maybe heaven and hell was a little too big for LUMA. That’s when we got Intuit involved in discussing how to do a show that concerns both types of imagery and how to split it up. One of us taking heaven and one of us taking hell seemed like a natural division. In our permanent collection at LUMA, we have this Medieval and Renaissance and Baroque art, and I would say that every third work of art has
MT: It started with looking through catalogues from past exhibitions with similar themes – the apocalypse, spiritual visions and that kind of subject matter. We went from there and tried to track down the collectors. We also looked at permanent collections at museums, like the High Museum, Milwaukee, even the Smithsonian, and we cast a wide net and then narrowed it down based on what we were finding. We had an idea to start looking at the heavenly and the hellish, rather than just heaven and hell, but it started to feel too big. So we cut out the Garden of Edens [“and the chocolate cakes,” interjected Ambrose], so we could keep it focused on heaven and hell. Even within that, there’s still a wide range of interpretations of those two subjects. Have you noticed any difference in how you’re curating or thinking about the exhibition than if you were working on a show by trained artists? MT: I think there is a difference. Paying attention a little more to the artists’ backgrounds and biographies has come into play. They have stories that aren’t necessarily more interesting than those of trained artists, but there seems to be more of a direct relationship between the artists’ background and the art they’re producing. A lot of them feel called to make this kind of art and I think that spiritual connection is really something that resonates with LUMA’s mission. PA: To add to that, I think that contemporary artists today might paint an image of
heaven, but it’s very self-conscious in a way. It’s as though they’re reacting more to pop culture, so the imagery is more topically based on society, whereas what I’ve seen in outsider art is that there’s a lack of responding to society. We like to think all artists make art from an internal motivation, but you did find, especially in the 20th Century, a long history of responding to political and societal concerns. Are you encountering any surprises along the way? MT: I think the most interesting and most surprising works are some that contain themes of both heaven and hell—especially the revelation scenes. So Jan and I have had to do a lot of discussing about who gets those kinds of pieces and we’ve been dividing those up. Also, several works, mostly by Sister Gertrude Morgan but also a couple of other artists, are of wedding scenes with a depiction of the artist herself in marriage ceremony with Jesus. They’re surrounded by angels or are supposed to be taking place in a heavenly realm. I find those interesting—and I think you don’t really see that in trained artists’ work.
members, and we think Intuit will do the same. It’s sort of Part A and Part B—if you see one, you have to see the other. Do you think you’ll get visitors you might not get normally? PA: I would hope so. We’re very new still in the museum world; we’ll be 6 years old in October. And we built an audience from scratch, so this is a whole new possible constituency for us, and vice versa. I think it’s a terrific opportunity for both of us to build an audience, especially with members. Do you feel like you’re taking any risks with this collaboration? Is there anything that might seem boundary-stretching for LUMA? PA: Our mission—the exploration of the spiritual and art of all faiths and all cultures—is interpreted in a pretty expansive manner. It does move away from the idea that you need to have representational art when you’re talking about spirituality. It’s not really even an issue I’ve considered. I think a collaboration can potentially be the most wonderful thing, because you have new ideas coming from another institution that
may be doing things very differently. I think it’s a major learning experience. MT: Having Jan and I as co-curators has been great because I’m so inexperienced with this kind of art and she’s so experienced, and we’ve been able to have great conversations and I’ve learned a lot from her. And I think maybe I’m looking at things with fresh eyes, so I think that’s helped us have a complete vision for the show. And for our audience, I think the material is very accessible and that’s something that’s appealing about doing this show. It’s a different kind of art to be presenting to our audience, who maybe is not as familiar with outsider art. But it still upholds our mission very well. PA: Of all the Catholic orders, the Jesuits are the most expansive in their thinking. Our cultural mission is part of a larger mission of finding God in all things. Art is one of those things that can enrich our lives and maybe bring us closer to some interior reflection. And I think that is one of the goals of this particular exhibition. HEAVEN+HELL will run from February 10 – June 30, 2012 at Intuit, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., and at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave.
PA: We’re just starting to move out of what I consider sort of a debilitating trend of the last 20 to 30 years in which religion and art equals kitsch. So artists dealing with religious or spiritual subject matters were just thought to be really outside of what anyone would be interested in and the fear that you’re going to find the Virgin Mary on black velvet is one that the art world has picked up. But interestingly enough, if you’re considered self-taught, it’s suddenly OK. That’s one idea, once the exhibition is up, that I would like to explore more. Can you explain briefly how you plan to handle the dual exhibition logistically? PA: I think it will work pretty easily. We’re probably going to do some joint advertising. And on opening night we hope to have a bus doing shuttle runs between the two organizations. We’ll also make sure that any educational programming that Intuit is doing will be well-publicized to our
Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), He Doth Great Wonders, c. 1970. Gouache, pen and watercolor on paper, 10 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Collection of Robert A. Roth. Photo: William H. Bengtson.
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Intuit: 20 years and counting
Much has changed, but one thing remains constant: Our commitment to promoting outsider and self-taught art B Y Cle o W ils o n
With humble beginnings as an itinerant grassroots organization with no facility and very little money (but no shortage of big ideas), Intuit is now
20 years old, and we have much to cheer about. Our dedicated staff and passionate board of directors have built Intuit into a nonprofit organization that is committed to presenting self-taught and outsider art with worldclass exhibitions; stimulating and provocative education programming; a Permanent Collection with holdings of more than 1,100 works of art; the Henry Darger Room Collection; and the Robert A. Roth Study Center, a non-circulating collection of books, monographs and periodicals with a primary focus in the fields of outsider and contemporary self-taught art.
To find out who’s who and what’s what in the images with this article, please visit Intuit’s Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/intuit.
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1991: In the beginning, eight visionaries come together to establish an organization to promote an appreciation for and understanding of the work of self-taught and outsider artists.
Jan Petry, and Crowning Achievement: The Crimped & Cutting Edge in Bottle Cap Sculpture, curated by Aron Packer and Bill Swislow. Crowning Achievement introduces many to the work of Grace and Clarence Woolsey, who left behind more than 200 sculptures created or covered completely in bottle caps. Intuit also registers art.org, an information center accessible through the Internet.
1997: The seeds are planted for Intuit’s acclaimed Teacher Fellowship Program with “Outside In!” an exhibition of work created by students from five Chicago public schools. Hearing-impaired students from the Bell School attend Intuit’s exhibition Images in a Silent World: The Art of James Castle, curated by Marjorie Freed. It is the first major exhibition of Castle’s work east of the Mississippi River.
1992: Intuit presents The Healing Machines of Emery Blagdon, a collection of 60 mixed-media sculptures created by the reclusive Nebraska farmer, curated by Don Dryden and Don Christensen, who together acquired Blagdon’s entire oeuvre at public auction after the artist’s death. It
1995: Self: The Paintings of Drossos Skyllas, curated by David Russick, displays 31 of the 35 known works of Skyllas, a meticulous self-taught portrait and landscape artist. A grant from the Joyce Foundation allows Intuit to hire its first executive director, Jeff Cory, to administer the organization’s
A fundraising event, “Collect-O-Rama ’97: The Intuit Members’ Really Big Deaccession Sale, Open House and Barbeque,” kicks off under a tent in the Infant Welfare Society parking lot. The allday fair is “the first-ever event in which Intuit members sell folk and outsider art
For those who missed it—and those who love to be reminded of our progress—the journey from there to here has gone something like this:
1999: Art created by African American ministers is featured in two exhibitions: I Make Pictures: The Masterful Paintings of Reverend Johnnie Swearingen, curated by Julie and Bruce Webb and organized by the African American Museum in Dallas, debuts in May; following in September is A Spiritual Journey: The Art of Eddie Lee Kendrick, curated by Alice Rae Yelen of the New Orleans Museum of Art. 2000: The new millennium kicks off with
2001: Intuit’s educational programming includes Watts Towers preservationist Bud Goldstone and Lee Kogan of the American Folk Art Museum, who leads a discussion on anonymous art in conjunction with the exhibition Without Ego, a survey of works by unknown artists, curated by David Syrek.
from Susann Craig, Marjorie Freed, Eugenie Johnson, Jan Petry and Myron Shure.
Haiti Voudou Visionaries, curated by Marilyn Houlberg, School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor emeritus, draws record crowds who pack the gallery to see voudou priests hold a ritual ceremony.
It goes unannounced but is quite visible when The Outsider introduces color on its front and back covers. While still basically a black and white magazine, the magazine features spot color and its first color ad from Ricco Maresca Gallery.
Intuit’s 10th anniversary benefit gala and auction raises more than $75,000, a portion of which is donated to support victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
2003: The Intuit Show of Folk & Outsider Art evolves from Collect-O-Rama. Three dozen top local and national exhibitors arrive for the greatly expanded three-day fair.
Organized in collaboration with the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC), Albert Zahn: I’ll Fly Away features the
is the first major exhibition of his work in the Midwest. Our first newsletter, In’tuit, is published featuring a cover story about Jesse Howard. 1993: In conjunction with Intuit’s Eccentric Chairs exhibition, curated by Jan Petry, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institutions gives a lecture titled “James Hampton’s Heavenly Seating,” about Hampton’s Throne of the Third Millennium. 1994: During the second annual Outsider Art Fair, Intuit members tour Joseph Furey’s fully decorated apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Intuit’s exhibitions include: African Hair Signs, curated by
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Intuit moves into a permanent home at 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. For the first time, we have two exhibition spaces that allow for concurrent shows, a lecture/meeting/performance space, and office and storage space.
from their private collections.”
1996: Our long search for a permanent home comes to an end in July 1995, when we sign a three-year lease with Roger Brown, noted Chicago Imagist and founding Intuit board member, to use his home and studio, which dramatically increases our schedule of exhibitions and educational programs. Our fall show, Fancy Work: The Domestic Textiles of Cora Meek, curated by Martha Watterson, is enhanced by the opening night appearance of the 106-year-old artist.
1998: Chicagoans witness Henry Darger’s world take center stage. More than 12,000 people visit Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being, a very special “homecoming” exhibition on the 25th anniversary of Darger’s death. Presented by Intuit and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the traveling retrospective features Darger’s mural-sized watercolors and smaller pencil drawings and includes a slidelecture by Darger expert John MacGregor and a 1973 documentary about Darger’s home/studio. The exhibition is accompanied by a tour of Darger’s room, a small flat in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, graciously hosted by Kiyoko Lerner.
Our publication, In’tuit, gets a redesign and becomes The Outsider. It’s still black and white, but it is now a magazine with articles about artists and trends around the world.
William L. Hawkins, an exhibition of the Ohio artist’s work, curated by Jan Petry; followed by Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott, curated by Petry and Tom Di Maria of Creative Growth in Oakland, California. John MacGregor, art historian and author of the eponymous book, lectures on Scott’s work and is joined by Scott’s sister Joyce for a Q&A session. These are the first major Chicago retrospectives of both artists’ work. Artist and singer Daniel Johnston performs as part of the “Intuitive Music Series.” Featured singer/songwriters include Hasil Adkins, The Big DooWopper, Tampico and Frank Pugno, and screenings of outsider music videos by author Irwin Chusid.
2002: University of Memphis associate professor Carol Crown leads a discussion titled “Prophecy chART: An American Tradition,” in conjunction with Intuit’s exhibition Prophecies: Adventist Charts from the Jenks Memorial Collection at Aurora University. Intuit’s spring exhibition, American Stone Carving, curated by Michael Noland, features sculptural work by William Edmondson, Popeye Reed, Raymond Coins, Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, Tim Lewis, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and others. Intuit’s Study Gallery hosts the second in a series of exhibitions featuring a survey of “masters” of outsider art. Intuit becomes a collecting institution with promised gifts
work of the Wisconsin woodcarver. That year, Intuit salutes Ruth DeYoung Kohler, director of the JMKAC, with its Visionary Leadership Award to recognize her efforts to conserve and preserve Wisconsin art environments, including the massive oeuvre of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. Kohler joins the company of Intuit’s first honoree, Ruth Horwich. 2004: With Genesis: Gifts and Promised Gifts to the Permanent Collection, Intuit Exhibits Chair Jan Petry curates a show featuring gifts and promised gifts received from friends and supporters from Chicago, across the nation and overseas. Artists in the exhibition include William Hawkins, William Dawson, David Philpot, Minnie Evans, Lee Godie, Howard Finster,
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Johann Hauser, Dwight Mackintosh, Justin McCarthy, Oswald Tschirtner, P.M. Wentworth, Miles Carpenter, Willie White, Wesley Willis and Joseph Yoakum. 2005: Intuit welcomes its second executive director, Connie Gibbons, and the show Tools of her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan, curated by William A. Fagaly, former director of the New Orleans Art Museum, organized by the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Tools of Her Ministry is the first major museum retrospective devoted to Morgan (19001980), an African American painter who today is considered one of the most important self-taught artists of our time. 2006: Intuit celebrates its 15th anniversary with a catalogue, symposia and exhibition titled Take Me to the River, curated by Ken Burkhart; and a new executive director, Cleo Wilson, a founding board member. The celebration pays tribute to Phyllis Kind, who spearheaded the movement to promote the work of self-taught and outsider artists. 2007: Intuit hosts its first artist in residence, Lonnie Holley, who over two weeks creates a site-specific sculpture/ environment/assemblage using found and recycled materials, architectural salvage and the detritus of human activity. Sixty-two sculptures evolve over Holley’s residency, and students of all ages, artists and the general public get to interact with him. Other exhibitions that year include A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions, curated by Jo Farb Hernandez; Don’t Fence Me In: The Art of Daniel Watson, curated by Mary Donaldson; and Ken Grimes: ELUSIVE MESSAGES. 2008: Intuit experiences record attendance, with more than 8,000 gallery visitors and nearly 15,000 special events visitors (for slide lectures, curator/artists talks, handson-artist workshops, university classes, student field trips and the Intuit Show at the Merchandise Mart). In the making for nearly eight years, the
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Henry Darger Room Collection is unveiled in Intuit’s Study Center Gallery. Through a gift of Kiyoko Lerner, Darger’s landlord (with her husband, Nathan Lerner), Intuit acquired many of Henry Darger’s personal belongings as well as actual architectural elements from his one-room Chicago apartment. Lovingly and faithfully curated by Jessica Moss and Lisa Stone, the permanent installation includes Darger’s furniture, Remington typewriter and hundreds of other objects, including the source materials for his watercolor collages. In conjunction with the opening of the Henry Darger Room Collection, we present the Henry Darger Exhibition featuring 12 of Darger’s collaged watercolors. 2009: Buffeted by the economic turndown, The Outsider is reduced to one issue per year as Intuit grapples with declining revenue. Determined not to cut programs, we mount four exhibitions, including Freaks & Flash, featuring artwork from the heyday of tattooing as a Western folk art and tattoo flash (the design drawings for tattoos) hung alongside sideshow banners depicting tattooed performers and acetate stencils for transferring tattoo designs onto the skin, curated by Anna Friedman-Herlihy. Other exhibitions: Culprits, Innocents and Outsiders: Heartland Visions, curated by Kevin Cole; The Picture Tells the Story: The Drawings of Joseph E. Yoakum, curated by Mark Pascale, caretaker of Whitney Halstead’s collection bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979; and STICKS, an exhibition of all things wood, curated by Jan Petry. 2010: Intuit’s exhibitions continue to receive critical acclaim. The year is bookended by two beautiful exhibitions: The Treasure of Ulysses Davis, a traveling retrospective of 119 sculptures, organized by Susan Crawley of the High Museum of Art; and Forget Me NOT: Self-Taught Portraits, featuring 49 artists, including Ammi Phillips, Stephen Warde Anderson, Joe Coleman, Howard Finster, Morris
Hirshfield, Lee Godie, Elijah Pierce and William Matthew Prior, and showcasing a variety of styles while presenting the unified theme of portraiture, curated by Jan Petry. Other exhibitions that year include Almost There: A Portrait of Peter Anton, curated by Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden, and Life Lines: The Drawings of Charles Steffen, curated by Eugenie Johnson. The year also sees a reincarnated Intuit Show. For the first time ever, The Art Fair Company presents the Intuit Show and SOFA CHICAGO (International Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair) under one roof at Chicago’s historic Navy Pier and welcomes a crowd of more than 30,000 attendees. 2011: Our 20th anniversary year kicks off with 84 works of art by 39 artists selected by guest-curator and author Roger Manley from Intuit’s Permanent Collection and promised gifts: Architecture of Hope—the Treasures of Intuit explores a range of inspired responses to struggle as generated by self-taught artists. The summer exhibition, Esta Chido Todo, translated “It’s so cool,” features the work of self-taught artist Raul Maldonado, a 28-year-old Mexican American who finds his inspiration in Japanese anime and video games. It is curated by Susan Matthews, who first came in contact with Maldonado when he visited her in 2009 at the Hanover Park Park District Community Center. Other 2011 exhibitions: You Better be Listening: Text in Self-Taught Art, curated by Matt Arient, and Eugene Von Bruenenchein: From the Wand of the Genii, curated by Lisa Stone. If you’d like to help us write the next five years of Intuit’s history, why not become a member today? Your support will help us continue to build an organization that shares your passion for outsider and intuitive art. Get Intuit! n
Groundbreakers For Intuit’s founders, the first 20 years have been a time of devotion, discovery and decisions The list of early supporters is impressive. The recorded names include 60-plus individuals and couples, largely Chicagoans, who gave $250 each to help the new organization launch its first exhibitions and programs. But it was a group of eight individuals—Donald Baum, Roger Brown, Susann Craig, Marjorie Freed, Ann Nathan, Robert Roth, Judy Saslow and Cleo Wilson—who first comprised its board of directors and served among the first officers of the fledgling organization that would become Intuit. Along with videographer Keith Bodner, Kevin Cole recently spoke with some of the “founders”—those who were there, back in 1991— about their earliest recollections. In June 1980, LIFE magazine featured a cover story on the burgeoning field of American folk art. Chicago reader Marjorie Freed recalls being struck by Henry Ford –2 ½ Years Old, a painting by the then little known Howard Finster of Georgia. “I couldn’t get that image out of my mind,” she says. Freed later called Finster directly, using the phone number she extracted with a magnifying glass from the article’s image of Finster’s young Henry. The large tractor enamel-on-burlap work now graces Freed’s living room, hanging above the mantel, next to an iron gate by Louis Sullivan. Judy Saslow reflects that it was the simplicity, and sometimes humor, in the animal drawings of Bill Traylor that first caught her attention. Having traveled to Africa some years earlier, and already possessing an affinity for modern primitive art and culture, Saslow admired the energy in Traylor’s static images. Today a visit to her dining room finds an old weathered wooden cabin door she recovered during a visit to Benton, Alabama, where Traylor once worked, representative of the slave quarters he likely would have occupied. Saslow’s impressive collection of Traylors has been dubbed by John Maizels of Raw Vision magazine as “one of the most important collections of outsider art in Chicago.” Susann Craig smiles as she shares her stories about weekends spent “picking” with
friends in Central Illinois, or around Chicago’s neighborhoods. “We would visit Mr. Dawson at his home on North Avenue,” she says. “We’d enjoy his stories, and inevitably come home with a new-found treasure.” Robert Roth describes his experience driving Route 39 in southern Wisconsin, near Hollandale, when, after rounding a curve, he was surprised by a colorful rural property that displayed a glittering array of concrete lawn sculptures. Applying the brakes, he went back for a closer inspection of the roadside attraction. The impression stuck. Roth later learned he had stumbled upon “Grandview,” the jeweled home and embellished property of German immigrant Nick Engelbert. Roth speaks of the other self-made artist environments in Wisconsin he visited soon after, acknowledging his appreciation of James Zanzi, whose book Sacred Spaces and Other Places: A Guide to the Grottos and Sculptural Environments of the Upper Midwest Roth cites as helping inspire his entry into collecting outsider art. Roth also credits Lisa Stone, who, along with Zanzi, helped formalize field trips for School of the Art Institute of Chicago students and created the first class to study artist environments, calling it Better Homes and Gardens: Vernacular Art Environments. Not all of Intuit’s founders were collectors, however.
It was the bold black silhouette of a curled “serpent,” poised to strike, that Cleo Wilson first saw on the banners outside the Field Museum that beckoned her inside to see Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980 (organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). “These were works by black Americans … art unlike anything I’d ever seen before … nothing like what was on exhibition at the Art Institute,” she exclaims. ••• “The disrespect that the mainstream art world showed toward self-taught art required a response,” Roth says. “We met in my living room,” says Ann Nathan, “… and then the fighting began!” One can see a playful twinkle in her eyes as she speaks of those earliest days of meeting with Roger Brown over coffee to discuss creating an organization focused on self-taught art. Eventually, Nathan’s own gallery and family responsibilities drove her in other directions. And when the group met at the Freeds’ home, Harvey (Marjorie’s husband) remembers the two-hour-long debates around the dining room table about what to name the new organization. “I’d sit in the corner, quietly thinking, ‘How can this group ever accomplish anything if they can’t even agree on a name?’ … There were some very lively discussions.”
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For the record, the organization was originally chartered as the Society of Intuitive and Visionary Art (SOIVA); later evolving into In’tuit, then to its present version, Intuit. But was it Don Baum or Roger Brown who passionately lobbied for the name Intuit? Survey a handful of folks involved during those early days, and you’ll get different answers. (The vote seems to lean slightly toward Baum, however.)
I’d rather not go there.” ••• While collecting outsider art still seems to reign high as a criterion for board membership, a 2011 profile reflects some drifting away from that predominance. A relative newcomer to all things Intuit, activist and writer Laura Fox was first drawn to the organization for its exhibition
stewardship. Chicago has served as a prominent spawning ground for some extraordinary outsider artists, and Intuit provides a headquarters to help ensure this art achieves its rightful place.” ••• In 1998, Intuit took a big step forward when it purchased the building at 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the River West area of Chicago. The space still serves as the
True, Intuit faces its own financial challenges, but 2011 saw other disappointments, including the downsizing of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, reflecting that the field of self-taught art, and museums tied closely to it, is indeed one of ever changing dynamics. Yet, August found Intuit branching out and traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for its first-ever west of the Mississippi venture: the SOFA West art expo combining forces with The Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art. ••• Celebrating 20 years induces further reflections, including the noteworthy 1982 comments by then director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Peter C. Marzio, as he wrote about the exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980, which influenced many of Intuit’s early patrons. “It is rare for an individual or an institution to discover something truly important and previously unknown. I believe this exhibition does just that.
From left to right: Susann Craig, Judy Saslow, Marjorie Freed, Bob Roth
Ask 10 people to recall their fondest experience with Intuit and you’ll likely get 10 different answers as well: the opening that was held at the World Tattoo Gallery, the chair exhibition, the Darger Room. . . . ••• Perhaps it’s this same sort of disparity— these days call it diversity—that’s provided strength and the foundation for Intuit to endure. To say that Intuit is made up of a collection of individualists is accurate. But as the organization matures into the 21st Century, it’s also fitting to describe the organization as persistent. Twenty years later, some of the same debates linger on. People still disagree about the definition (and use) of the term “outsider” to describe the art in Intuit’s exhibitions—or whether the term should be used at all. “Term warfare,” as Saslow calls it. “But
of marginalized artists, and for its strong educational focus. Fox, who advocates for underprivileged and disenfranchised individuals, also volunteers with the Roger Brown Study Center. “Intuit’s teacher resources programs reach [hundreds of] public school students in Chicago—most of whom come from low-income families,” Fox says. “That’s impressive for a small museum.” Matt Arient, another board newbie, but one who was baptized in the waters of outsider art, joined Intuit via membership in The Arient Family (as in “Collection”). “Most of my generation have no familiarity with these art genres because of a lack of presence in major museums,” Arient says. “And media coverage of self-taught and outsider art by mainstream outlets is scarce. My experience growing up in a collecting family provided me with unique opportunities. I see my role as one of
are rampant and the rules of art history do not help us understand what we are looking at. Without a scholarly primer and a seal-of-art-history approval, black folk art could easily remain unnoticed by the broad American public, except for the fact that the best of this art is an important contribution to American culture.” — Excerpt from the exhibition catalogue The Corcoran is presently wrestling with a projected $3 million deficit during its 2011 fiscal year, and in January the museum hired consultants to help guide it through its difficulties. ••• In some matters, like raising children, 20 years is not that long a time. But in the nonprofit field, it can be several lifetimes. Fine-tune that even further to include just nonprofit visual arts organizations, and you can find those that have come and gone over the years. It’s not too far-fetched to say that had Intuit
“Times have changed,” Craig says. “People are so busy with different pastimes than years ago. Even collecting the kind of art we were discovering in flea markets and storefronts during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s has changed. But, yes, other self-taught artists will always surface. They’re out there somewhere.” As this issue of The Outsider goes to print, it is volunteers, who, like many before them since 1991, are again working to prepare for Intuit’s annual Visionary Ball, the benefit gala that is one of the organization’s biggest fundraisers. Twenty years later, and there is still debate about whether collectors have a role on the Intuit board and, if so, what that role should be. Some have argued that Intuit should avoid collectors in favor of non-collectors—that involvement by collectors leads to the promotion of personal agendas, or conflicts of interest. This can be the case when it comes to programming and exhibitions, for example. But it’s the passion collectors
organization’s home base, and 20 years later boasts a Permanent Collection of 1,200 works of art and a history of presenting almost 100 exhibitions that have pushed the boundaries of art seen in galleries and museums around the world. Then, in 2008, Intuit completed another major step when it dedicated the Henry Darger Room Collection. Strong feelings among supporters indicate that more Darger presence at Intuit is inevitable, but space is needed. Wilson expresses hopes for Intuit’s future, saying, “We need a broader base of donors. But that needs to be nurtured, and it takes time and constant attention”—sentiments echoed by Freed, Craig, Roth and others. Twenty years later and the organization is struggling, still, with finding ways to raise money to meet operational costs. An attempt to hire a development director in 2010 was short-lived when the person left after just a few weeks on the job.
From left to right: Ruth Horwich with founding board member Don Baum, Cleo Wilson, Roger Brown, Ann Nathan
It defines a body of fine art created by black Americans in the twentieth century, a phenomenon which is not even mentioned in most histories of American culture. This art will probably disturb many viewers because it is so different from what we usually find in art museum collections. There are few visual conventions, the incongruities
not been established 20 years ago by the strong-willed group of individuals who made a commitment to form an organization dedicated to art and artists on the edge of the art world, if part of it at all, an organization like it might never have been founded. For those still around, it’s been 20 years of devotion, discovery and decisions.
bring to the table that has fueled much of Intuit’s accomplishments over the years. Intuit emerged from passions about art that was different from everything else that was being presented at the time in the mainstream art world. “When it comes to the major art museums, at least, not enough has changed,” says Roth. And, if you’re really into it, you probably agree . . . passionately. n
Roger Brown photo: courtesy of Roger Brown Study Collection, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Marjorie Freed photo: Kevin Cole; all other photos: Cheri Eisenberg.
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10046 Con way Road St. Loui s, M isso uri 63124 ( mobil e) 314-409-6057
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If you’d like to help us write the next chapter of our history, we invite you to become a member of Intuit today. Nowhere else will you find an organization that shares your passion for self-taught, outsider and intuitive art. Call us at 312.243.9088 or visit us at www. art.org. The Outsider 41
Bringing the outside in: Self-taught art reimagined by CPS teachers, students
Thanks to Intuit’s Donors The generosity of individuals, foundations and board members enabled us to continue our world-class exhibitions, create informative publications and award-winning education programs, and build one of the finest collections of self-taught and visionary art in America. We are pleased to recognize our esteemed contributors during the 2010 calendar year.
President’s Circle $10,000+
The Alphawood Foundation Field Foundation of Illinois Lloyd A. Fry Foundation MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at Prince Jan Petry Polk Bros. Foundation Robert A. Roth Terra Foundation for American Art
Cathryn E. Albrecht John Cain Tracy Dillard Janet Franz & William Swislow Marjorie & Harvey Freed Nancy Gerrie & Rich Bowen Terry Glover Angie Mills Ann & Walter Nathan Judith Newton Judy A. Saslow Gail Garcia Steffen Jerry Stefl Lisa Stone & Don Howlett Janet Williams & Ralph Concepcion Gary R. Zickel
Visionary Circle $3,500-$9,999 Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development Judith & Patrick Blackburn John R. Houlsby Foundation Illinois Arts Council Ruth DeYoung Kohler Angela Lustig & Dale Taylor
Leadership Circle $2,500-$3,499 Leslie Buchbinder The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs City Arts 3 Eugenie & Lael Johnson Nikki Will Stein & Fred Stein
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Patron $500-$1,199 David Altman Keith Bodner Barbara & Russell Bowman Susann E. Craig Andrew Edlin Gallery Sue Eleuterio and Tom Sourlis Salli & Thomas Eley Susan & Gary Alan Fine Foundation to Promote Self-Taught Art Ellen Glassmeyer & Kenneth Green Robert Grossett
Ruth Horwich Thomas Isenberg Rachel Kohler & Mark Hoplamazian Kevin Lyle Puffin Foundation Ricco Maresca Gallery Lois & Richard Rosenthal David Rubman Micki Beth Stiller Janet Sullivan David Syrek Karin Tappendorf Dorianne & John Venator
In-Kind Contributors AAA Rent-All Artists Frame Service Joe Darrow Cheri Eisenberg John Faier Fisheye Media Forces The Icon Group Lowercase, Inc. Olive Properties Ravenswood Events Ruzika & Associates Ltd. David Syrek
Inspired by self-taught artists, students from Franklin Fine Arts Center assembled their Art Truck (from left), Franklin 8th grader Jack Irving did a self-portrait and Garvy Elementary School 3rd grader Joseph Poreski created a landscape. Photos: Carol Ng-He
“Everybody has an outside as well as an inside, just like a house. People can see the outside, but the inside is where people live. . . . Go and get to know somebody’s inside and you will actually see the difference.” —Jessica Gutierrez The passage above is excerpted from the writing of a 7th grade student who participated in Intuit’s 2010-11 Teacher Fellowship Program. Under the guidance of visual arts teacher Edward Pino and English teacher Andre LeMoine at Orozco Community Academy, Jessica created a mixed-media self-portrait on a cigar box. It was just one of the art projects students undertook as part of Intuit’s award-winning education program. Through studying outsider and self-taught art, visiting Intuit’s exhibitions and creating a crossdisciplinary art project designed by the 11 Chicago Public Schools teachers selected for the 2010-11 program, nearly 500 students were able to benefit. The schools taking part were Orozco, Jenner Fine Arts Academy, CICS Northtown Academy, Orr Academy High School, Robert Healy Elementary School, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, Franklin Fine Arts Center, Prosser Career Academy, Prologue Early College High
School, John W. Garvy Elementary School and Kershaw Magnet Elementary School. Intuit kicks off the program with a series of training sessions for the teachers in the fall. This year’s sessions included tours of the Chicago Cultural Center’s Howard Finster exhibition and the Roger Brown Study Collection; visits to the private collections of Intuit board member Susann Craig and contemporary artist Michael Noland; and a scrapbook-making workshop with self-taught artist Peter Anton. The teachers went on to develop outsider art-inspired projects in their classrooms. Artworks by Lee Godie, William Hawkins, Ike Morgan and Joseph Yoakum were among those providing the students with inspiration. They spent the spring interpreting the artworks and creating projects around related themes. As Brande Donovan, an 8th grade student at Garvy Elementary School, put it: “I learned that outsider art can be connected with many different stories into one detailed project.” To celebrate the hard work and dedication of the teachers and students, a public exhibition showcasing selected students’ work took place at Intuit’s Study Gallery in June. On the opening day, more than
130 people, including teachers, school administrators, families, Intuit’s past and present board members, volunteers and supporters, attended the event. Intuit is proud of the continuous growth of the Teacher Fellowship Program. Since December 2010, Intuit has partnered with Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) to develop new assessment strategies in hopes of enhancing the quality of the program. Intuit’s Teacher Fellowship Program is constantly enriched by the students’ powerful imagination and creativity. In reflecting on the most important thing she learned from the program, Wajiha Arman, an 8th grader at Garvy, said: “I learned that you don’t have to be the best artist on earth to create something beautiful. And there is beauty in everything.” The program is funded in part by generous grants from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation and Crown Family Philanthropies, as well as by donations from Intuit’s members. To learn more about the program and other educationrelated activities, please visit Intuit’s website: www.art.org/education. n —CAROL NG-HE
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Recent Acquisitions & Promised Gifts a tool for making art was transformed into a whimsical figure. Similarly, Untitled (wire dress) makes a delicate doll-sized garment from a decidedly indelicate “fabric” of wire mesh. Though Warmack was born in Chicago, where he spent most of his life living between peaks of creativity and valleys of hardship, Untitled (wire dress) reflects his more recent work, created after the artist moved east to experience a slower-paced life in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Both works are great examples of Warmack’s ability to make the ordinary and the discarded into expressions that renew and invigorate in the face of even the most daunting circumstances.
Left: William Dawson (1901-1990), Untitled (bird facing left), n.d. Paint on paper, 12 by 16 in. Gift of Jana Sample. Right: Lee Godie (1908-1994), Clown, n.d. Ballpoint pen and watercolor on canvas, 26 1/2 by 19 in. Gift of Esther Sparks Sprague.
Intuit is pleased to announce new drawings, paintings and sculptures that have been added to the Permanent Collection through a number of generous gifts. We are excited to have received a second work by artist Jerry Wagner (b. 1939), kindly donated by George Jacobs. The Dreamer is a mixed media collaged work on paper that exists between the abstract and the figurative. The piece (along with Wagner’s The Illusion Box) was included in the 2011 exhibition You Better Be Listening: Text in Self-Taught Art, curated by Matthew Arient. Born largely out of the artist’s need to find balance in the face of personal struggle with loss and serious illness, it was not originally intended for an audience. Wagner’s work draws from spiritual and experiential sources, such as his study of the Torah and cherished outdoor locations he would return to in order to find his spiritual center. Clown, by Lee Godie (1908-1994), was generously given to Intuit by Esther
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Sparks Sprague. It is a fine example of her signature profile portraits. Most of Godie’s production was on found or recycled materials, though at times she was able to obtain more traditional supports. This particular work is ballpoint pen and watercolor on an irregularly shaped canvas attached to foam core board. A wonderful Janus-like sculpture, Untitled (double stone head), by Ted Ludwiczak (b. 1927), was accepted into the collection courtesy of the artist and Aarne Anton. Ludwiczak started his art production later in life, after his retirement. He draws his materials from the Hudson River near his home and creates faces and heads from what he feels is suggested by their natural shapes and qualities. Some of the sculptures are quite large, challenging the artist’s capabilities in handling the material. The donated sculpture is on a scale that seems typical of the artist’s production while being of the less-common “two-faced” variety. The opposing profiles highlight the variety of expressions and
visages Ludwiczak has been able to discover. Anton also has donated to Intuit an excellent symmetrical composition by Haitian-born artist Max Romain (b. 1930). A retired security officer, Romain is another artist whose major production began late in life. His work often exhibits a ritual, spiritual or erotic element that seems primal and archetypical. It derives from the artist’s intuition but is likely influenced by his Haitian background as well, since the artist lived in Haiti until the age of 25. The donated work, The Statue of Liberty, seems to transform the familiar modern colossus into something more ancient and supernatural, but also more personal. Two playful works by Gregory “Mr. Imagination” Warmack (b. 1948) have been generously contributed by Dorianne and John Venator. Untitled (paintbrush head) shows the artist’s talent for transforming found objects and his everyday surroundings into art. In this case
Dean Settle has donated a pair of fascinating biomorphic drawings by Lincoln, Nebraska, natives Jeffrey Randall (b. 1967) and Rhonda Schrader (b. 1957). Randall’s art has been shown for the past six years at Lincoln’s annual Outsider Arts Exhibit and in 2010 at The Sheldon Museum and Art. His works also are part of the collection of The
Max Romain (b. 1930), Statue of Liberty, n.d. Paint on paper, 16 by 12 in. Gift of Aarne Anton..
Museum of Nebraska in Kearney. Often consisting of very dense fields of shapes surrounding and penetrating imaginative, fantastic figures, the artist’s work in this case is dominated by interlocking design elements that cover the entire composition. Schrader’s work displays a more concentric, mandalalike pattern that reaches toward the edges of the paper. Also untitled, it perhaps resembles vegetation or other natural forms that create an engaging movement on the surface as they accumulate and change their shapes. Now living in Arizona, Schrader is a pen and ink artist who first came to The Open Studio in Lincoln through a therapist referral. Ted Ludwiczak (b. 1927), Untitled (double stone head), n.d. Carved stone, She has submitted work 21 by 16 by 6 in. Gift of Ted Ludwiczak and Aarne Anton. annually to the Outsider Arts but later moved to Chicago, where he Exhibit there, and her works are widely preached on the south side. This particular collected in that community. work was shown at Intuit in 1998 as part of an exhibition focused on Rev. Philips’ work. Jana Sample has graciously contributed a It epitomizes the series of “biblical charts” painting by William Dawson (1901-1990), he created to illustrate important stories Untitled (bird facing left). Dawson was born from the Bible in a direct, relatable manner in Alabama but spent the rest of his life as as he preached his sermons and taught a Chicagoan. He became known among from the scriptures. artists and collectors in Chicago for his wide range of carved figures and paintings. Susann Craig has given to Intuit a His work was included in the important collection of effects and personal 1982 traveling exhibition Black Folk Art in correspondence by Sister Gertrude America 1930-1980. The donated painting Morgan (1900-1980). It is an unusual on paper reflects the artist’s abiding collection that will provide us with interest in animals as a subject, relating to additional insight into the artist’s life. We his time spent in rural America. are very pleased to have such primary source material and look forward to what Elizabeth A. Burns has donated a drawing can be gleaned from its study. n on canvas by Reverend Samuel David Philips (1890-1973), Jonah and the Great —ROBERT BURNIER Fish. Rev. Philips grew up in Georgia
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Book and Movie Reviews PR O DUC I N G LO CA L C O LOR : A R T NETWO RK S I N E T HNI C C H I CAG O By Diane Grams, University of Chicago Press, 229 pages, 19 color illustrations, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-226-30517-2 (hardcover)
In her book Producing Local Color: Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago, Diane Grams applies a revolutionary lens to the creation, extension and legitimization of fringe cultural practices. In Chicago, institutionalized culture—The Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and other major organizations—most often resides in the central downtown, promotes a limited scope of artworks and appeals to upper-tier elites. In contrast to this powerful urban “cultural core” and center-dominant hierarchy, Grams focuses on satellite art production in diverse neighborhoods with divergent social and cultural histories often considered “parochial and vernacular” to the mainstream. In this model, establishing places for local culture in areas historically defined by urban poverty extends civil rights advocacy, creating cultural equity and shared ownership of space. Cataloging social practices ranging from group consensus-building to private parties, Grams compellingly traces individuals forging civic systems through which artdriven social inclusion can combat raceand class-based social exclusion. Grams highlights three Chicago neighborhoods with rich ethnic cultures that have been both stigmatized and
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romanticized: Bronzeville, Pilsen and Rogers Park. Left outside of traditional institutional frameworks due to location and demographics, and in turn refusing to be ingratiating subordinated members, all three communities produced alternative art worlds where locally relevant collective resources—in the form of race, ethnicity, votes, funds, space and cultural symbols— mobilize and validate informal art production networks. Rather than attribute local cultural productions to serendipitous organic growth, Grams illuminates how urban policy, the built environment and geography contributed to each place’s meaning. Pilsen and Bronzeville, though close to the city center, are set apart by public policies circumscribing the traditionally ethnic communities by industrial train tracks, bridges, underpasses, highways and even high-rise housing projects. Situated on the far northern edge of the city, Rogers Park meanwhile escaped most urban development practices and became a historic location for diversity, beginning with its founding as a haven for religious minorities. Individuals within these locales then self-identified accordingly; black and Latino cultural representations predominate in Bronzeville and Pilsen, while Rogers Park residents support diverse cultural symbols. The book is largely organized around characterizations of five ideal types of networks—aesthetic, autonomy, problemsolving, gentrification and empowerment— at play in the three communities. These networks are not bounded entities with explicitly stated goals and interests. Instead, Grams notes that they are established by people brought together by local shared interests. In Pilsen and Bronzeville, communityactivated empowerment networks adopted and revised mainstream institutional
frameworks to extend cultural enfranchisement through site- and ethnic-specific museum projects. Margaret Burroughs, a teacher and arts administrator, founded the Ebony Museum in her own home in 1961 with a group of Bronzeville artists and activists. Together, they advocated to move the museum to a separate public space (renamed the DuSable Museum of African American History) by initiating grassroots fundraising, convincing the Chicago Park District to grant them a vacant building in Washington Square Park and securing a portion of city tax levies. Likewise, the Latino community in Pilsen established the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in 1986 with funds from Latino businesses and corporations; in 2006, it achieved national accreditation from the American Association of Museums and rebranded itself as the National Museum of Mexican Art. Examples of “arts district” labeling in Pilsen and Rogers Park expose two contrary networks. In Pilsen East, recent art-school graduates—whom Grams highlights as prioritizing their own creative autonomy rather than local place-making or identity-building—rented apartments in “Podville,” an area owned by the Podmajersky family real estate enterprise. Attracting these more transient artistresidents at first with low rents, flexible live/work spaces and a large concentration of nearby artists and galleries with recurring public events, the Podmajersky family aimed to increase local real estate prices by presenting a homogenized “Chicago Arts District,” while devaluing local Latino cultural practices and informal artist groups in Pilsen West. This gentrification-focused approach sponsors exclusive places with exclusive forms of art for the economic benefit of developers. Alternatively, social activists, community improvers and cultural entrepreneurs in Rogers Park proactively fight against
gentrification, forming problem-solving networks that engage current residents to collaboratively seek social stability and sustainable economic betterment. Producing Local Color is at its most compelling when it unfurls Bronzeville’s rich social fabric. Offering a detailed ethnographic study of the area once called the “Black Metropolis,” Grams exposes a fractured, stigmatized socioeconomic climate in which cultural production assumed implications outside of typical market valuations. Networks of artists and collectors had regular private parties to show, judge and legitimize art objects reflecting African American history. These interdependent relationships dictate a representation aesthetic where artwork necessarily depicts cultural heritage and symbols. In this network, art-making signifies civic activism, and art-collecting an act of local leadership. Bronzeville art practices stretch outside of domestic spaces into streetscapes, classrooms, galleries and museums as well. With a project initiated by artist William Walker, Bronzeville became the site of the first collective mural-making exercise, with local residents, artists, neighborhood organizations and gangs creating a monumental-scaled image honoring black heroes in 1967. In addition to the DuSable Museum, empowerment networks of local leaders attracted more than $100 million in government funds to develop a public art program marking neighborhood identity that included 14 park benches, a large-scale monument and a “Walk of Fame” with 91 plaques listing important African Americans in Chicago history. Producing Local Color is a masterly and engrossing account of art catalyzing social change in three disparate Chicago neighborhoods. And, Diane Grams has the
data, ethnographic research and personal narratives to prove it. In pioneering an alternative “theory of art,” she expands our understanding of fringe artistic producers to include community improvers, collectors, social activists, developers and neighborhood residents as well as artists. These wide-reaching networks engage in shared meaning-making, allowing cultures to construct their own identities rather than accept imposed mainstream values. “Art to Power” isn’t an empty phrase in this groundbreaking book. —LAURA FOX
PHYS ICS O N THE F RINGE: SMOKE RING S, CI RCLO NS , A ND ALTE RNATIVE THEO R IE S OF EVE RYTHI NG By Margaret Wertheim, Walker & Company, 336 pages, 16page color insert, 2011. ISBN: 978-802715135 (hardcover)
Physics on the Fringe is a compelling study of independent theorist-seekers who challenge the gates of official science with impassioned theories exploring the structure and nature of the universe. The book chronicles the results of author Margaret Wertheim’s 15 years of collecting works by uncredentialed physicists. Rescuing them would be more apt, as many of the works were orphaned, having been sent to and summarily discarded by universities and
research facilities. Among these, she became particularly interested in The Other Theory of Physics, self-published by Jim Carter, a kind of Renaissance outsider physicist in Enumclaw, Washington. Wertheim befriended Carter in 1993, and has followed the elliptical arc of his independent career ever since. Carter’s inexhaustible attempts to test and prove his own theories of physics take him into enviable zones of sheer tenacity and belief that few of us could hope to achieve. Carter rejects the existence of gravity as we know it, replacing it with the hypothesis that the universe operates according to a principle of continually expanding matter. This throws a spin on the clichéd jacket blurb “couldn’t put it down,” since, according to Carter, your hands would be pushing themselves up into the book. Wertheim unfolds a fascinating chronicle of such “down the rabbit hole” thinking, but far from taking the ironic high ground, the tone is respectful and sympathetic. Wertheim shadowed Carter’s path for many years, and has gathered, archived and carefully considered many other “outsider” theorists, resulting in a deeply humanistic study that celebrates the independent investigations of historical and contemporary selfmade scientists. She validates their integrity, and the collective yearning for a more accessible language with which to elucidate what makes the universe whirl, tick or continually expand, on a fundamental, physical level. Wertheim’s isn’t the first such collection. She follows in the footsteps of the 19th Century’s Augustus De Morgan, whose extensive collection of alternative scientific theories was published posthumously in the book A Budget of Paradoxes. This provides an important historical backdrop, and a welcome overview of the evolution of physics and mathematics is woven throughout the study for the science/mathchallenged who need a brush-up.
The Outsider 47
Book and Movie Reviews (continued)
Wertheim isn’t your ordinary science writer. In Physics on the Fringe, Wertheim As founder and director of The Institute for examines the central question, whose Figuring (www.theiff.org), “an organization theories are sublime and whose are dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic ridiculous? from a fresh perspective, dimensions of science, mathematics and recalibrating the “insider/outsider” the technical arts,” she’s also deeply paradigm in the process. For readers of involved in the visual arts—especially The Outsider, the outsider theorists in this the unofficial visual arts—and is a great study are analogous to artists working believer in blurring the line between art on the fringes of or beyond the academic and science, viewing inspired examples mainstream. Thankfully Wertheim of both as thoughtful ways of exploring addresses this parallel near the end of the magic in the workings of the universe. the book. She asks, “What happens to the republic of culture if only people with MFAs, Wertheim and her sister Christine’s at roughly a cost of $50,000 per degree, can major project, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, “an ongoing celebration of hope to get published in major magazines geometry, handicraft and marine biology,” or exhibited in major museums? One has traveled the world in a succession of thing certain is that culture does not cease installations of impassioned, collaborative outside the academic sphere, and lots of DIY crochet work—what some might people with no qualifications will carry consider “craft abuse,” but many on writing and making art despite being appreciate as a gorgeous, contemporary ignored by the mainstream.” She cites expression of fancy work taking on artists such as Ramírez, Wölfli, Darger environmental Armageddon. and others whose works take us to places that official culture can’t teach or even — LISA STONE accurately define. She brushes on the subject lightly and I hope she develops this into a sequel, examining Emery FR I E D R ICH SCH R ÖDE R Blagdon’s Healing Machine, James Tilly S ONNE NS TE RN Matthews’ Air Loom and a host of other artists whose works imagine, diagram or Essay by Pamela Kort, Michael Werner Gallery, about 40 otherwise express scientific theories and color images, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-8850-1381-1 (softcover) cosmological convictions in ineluctably original ways. It’s interesting to learn that the corollary between outsider physicists and artists diverges in one significant aspect. Where artists working beyond the mainstream for the most part don’t direct their work or energies to the centrist mainstream—if they’re even aware of it—physicists on the fringe have created an alternative professional universe, complete with websites, conferences and peer reviewers, and they continue to storm the gates of official science. Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern’s images of unexcelled symbolic intensity marked him as one of the most creative German artists of the mid-20th Century, but also
48 The Ou tsid er
as an artist whose weirdly eroticized work was unlikely to be found on gallery walls. He also happened to be hugely eccentric, putting in time as both a charlatan occultist and a mental patient. His serious production of highly idiosyncratic pictures began with relative suddenness and no training. Combined with his mental health history, it could sound like a typical art brut biography, but the story does not conform to the script, as Pamela Kort writes in the recently published catalogue for the exhibition From Barefoot Prophet to Avant-Garde Artist (March 16 – April 30, 2011) at Michael Werner Gallery in New York. She argues that his time in mental institutions should not be taken at face value. He was probably troubled and certainly eccentric, but not necessarily insane. Nor was he an isolate who labored in obscurity. Early in his artistic career he participated in a local art discussion group. More importantly, his work was recognized and promoted by such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton and Hans Bellmer and exhibited in Surrealist shows. But Schröder-Sonnenstern’s art did not fit with the aesthetic conversation that dominated the post-war German art world, and he remained virtually unknown in his own country, according to Kort. He also was not a comfortable fit for Jean Dubuffet’s art brut pantheon and was placed in the “annex” along with other artists whose engagement with Culture was not to Dubuffet’s taste. Kort devotes much attention to the artist’s medical history, but ironically it’s mostly to make the case that his mental state should not be over-emphasized. Focusing on his purported schizophrenia only serves to marginalize his work, in his own time and ours, and that 1918 diagnosis in any
case may have simply reflected the man’s disrepute. Kort does provide plenty of biographical details about a man whose life was in fact very interesting, art aside. In the years after World War I he was active as a mystic, clairvoyant and quack healer, although Kort does not think he had much belief in those callings. But this is a case where even the most fascinating biography pales in the context of the art itself. His typically pulchritudinous figures appear in scenes where violence is often present — whether suggested or explicit — but also oddly understated. The titles are as cryptic as the visual symbols: The Moralistic Moon Dualism, Zynus Theory — whether Demon of Desiccation and Withering and The People’s Joyful Miraculous Shirt, or the Moralistic Scarecrow. ISBN 978-9460220807
AF RICA N S IGNS By Rob Floor, Gert van Zanten and Paul Faber, KIT Publishers, 208 pages, 260 color images, 2010. ISBN 9789-4602-2080-7 (softcover)
Rob Floor Gert van Zanten
9 789460 220807
Kort takes her best shot at interpreting the mind-bending content, but the complexity of her explanations, however admirable the effort, simply can’t keep pace with the art she is attempting to interpret. The one thing that can be said clearly about this enigmatic artist is that his status as a true outsider is pretty secure. Not because of anything about his personality or work but for the simple reason that he was twice refused membership in Bildender Künstler Berlin — the Berlin Association of Visual Artists. —WILLIAM SWISLOW
Every once in a while those of us who don’t often make it to Africa have an opportunity to glimpse the continent’s extraordinary commercial visual culture. As recently as this summer vibrant examples of handpainted movie posters from the 1980s and ’90s were on view at the Chicago Cultural Center, which also mounted a show in 1996 of elaborate decorated coffins from Ghana. Both genres have been documented in well-illustrated books. African hair salon and barber shop signs, meanwhile, were featured in an Intuit show in 1994 and seem to have joined 1950s neon and early American advertising as the trade signs most sought by collectors. They’re popular enough to be custommade for sale abroad. African Signs collects hand-painted advertising, mostly photographed in situ, across a number of categories, including food, clothing, health, electronics and the ubiquitous hair. Among other things, the book shows off a scale of work that can’t be grasped from the small signs suitable for transport to the U.S. That includes many mural-size images and wall paintings as well as one remarkable photo showing more than a dozen individual signs arranged outside a pharmacy in Togo. (Being
health related, the explicit representation of ailments is easily as disturbing and occasionally as obscure as the kitschy violence seen in the low-budget movie posters featured in the book Extreme Canvas: HandPainted Movie Posters From Ghana and the Chicago Cultural Center show Movie Mojo.) A kitsch element certainly contributes to the appeal of some of these signs, but only some. It often seems related to the varying talent of the creators, which reflects a low barrier of entry to the work’s production. As Paul Faber’s introduction notes, the continent is generally too poor to produce the art school graduates who might otherwise populate a commercial art industry. But the need for advertising art in the continent’s thriving local markets has produced a demand for creativity that is ripe to be filled in interesting and creative ways. Faber tracked down one of these artists, who goes by the interesting name “Middle Art.” Faber notes that Middle Art is one “of the hundreds of professional painters in Africa who don’t see themselves as ‘artists’ in the romantic sense … but as craftsmen who make a living with paint and brushes. This modesty can also be found in the name ‘Middle Art.’ … He doesn’t consider himself very bad but also not very good, just Middle Art.” However accurate or not Middle Art’s judgment of his own ability, the talent displayed in this book is mostly impressive. Some artists can’t manage much more than caricature, but others produce nuanced portraits. Some show flights of imagination and others lavish loving visual attention on the most mundane (or sometimes bizarre) subjects. If a reminder is needed that the commercial vernacular can be a powerful engine of artistic creativity, this book provides it. —WILLIAM SWISLOW
The Outsider 49
Book and Movie Reviews (continued)
SOUT H A FRI CA N TOW NSH IP BA RB ERSH O PS & S A LO NS
barbershops and salons serve as centers for community interaction.
ARM AND SCH ULTHESS: J’AI LE TELE P HO N E
By Simon Weller, Mark Batty Publisher, 128 pages, 111
The artists Weller interviews demonstrate as much variance in their stories as in their styles. An artist known as Smoky, active in Soweto, told Weller he had wanted to be an artist since he was 5 years old and had studied art in college. He paints what he considers his true art but does commercial signs for income. He works fast, taking from 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete a commercial work.
DVD release of the 1974 film by Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf (2011); 53 minutes. Available in English, German, Italian and French on one DVD from www.artfilm.ch.
When Armand Schulthess died in 1972, almost his entire gesamtkunstwerk (Harald Szeemann) was destroyed. The film takes one last view of the extraordinary universe Schulthess created in a forest of chestnut trees, in his house and in the books he made about sexuality and astrology. This wilful Art Brut artist was also an astrologist, a natural scientist and a philosopher: “Do you mull over how things are and what will happen?”
“Schlumpf does not portray Schulthess; he has kept him alive. If he had not made this film, it would be as if Schulthess had never existed, as if he had been tossed on the garbage heap along with his universe.”
Chris Masekela, from a rural area outside Pretoria, is self-taught and reports being “inspired by an art gallery that I used to see when I came to town and became interested in white man’s art. Pierre Lachat, Film Critic
If African Signs, with its minimal text but rich collection of photographs, provides a window to African vernacular culture, South African Township Barbershops & Salons passes through that window to provide something of an inside tour. Simon Weller, a professional photographer, not only documents numerous advertising signs but also spent time with the sign painters, hair cutters and their patrons. He aims not just to show the art but also the culture in which the art is embedded. That took him across much of South Africa, cities and countryside, and into places that few whites, let alone tourists, ever visit. In one rural district he asked whether anyone had ever photographed the shops and found only one case, and that involved a government official documenting a structure for demolition. Seeing inside the ramshackle structures, many of them converted steel shipping containers, gives a richer sense of the businesses the signs advertise, including details like their reliance on car batteries for electricity. Weller also sketches the history of strife and the current poverty that are as much a part of the vernacular as any of the painted images. It seems that the poorer the community, the more the
50 The Ou tsid er
Armand Schulthess — J’ai le téléphone
A Film By Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf
color images, 2011. ISBN 978-1-935613-04-6 (hardcover)
ArMAND SCHULTHESS J’AI LE TéLéPHONE un Film de Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf
Photography and Animation: Kurt Aeschbacher | Original: 16mm Eastman Color Negative | Auressio TI 1972/73 | 53 Min. | Production: Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf www.Film-Schlumpf.ch | Copyright 1973 by Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf / SUISSI-MAGE ISAN 0000-0000-D7C5-0000-P-0000-0000-0
“I like black man’s art but I like white artists because they show real life and draw towns and people, for instance showing guys playing dice. Black art only shows traditional things like a black woman carrying a calabash on her head, going to fetch water from the river.” Masekela’s portraits have a definite edge to them and for whatever reason seem to show less of the American influence (often hip hop in nature) that characterizes much of this work (and is widely acknowledged by the artists and their customers). Weller found another artist who produces versions of his shop signs for gallery sale. Durban painter Espoir Kennedy, actually a refugee from Burundi, said he sells hair signs in a gallery for $95 while charging $40 for actual shop banners. —WILLIAM SWISLOW
It’s hard to describe the experience of watching Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf’s film about the little-known Swiss artist and recluse Armand Schulthess. While the film moves inexorably toward the death of Schulthess, describing along the way Schulthess’ history as an employee, a villager and an artist, it is not biography in any traditional sense. Nor is it “documentary” in any traditional sense. The images and environments that he created and that Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf masterfully weaves with loose narrative stick with you, and you leave the movie feeling like you’ve been given access to a secret life, even if you come away knowing very few details about him. Schlumpf’s film, then, likely achieves what it sets out to do, which is to recollect and resurrect the story of Schulthess in order to make it visible to the world. The framing of the images on the screen, which shift between color and black and white, suggests this striving toward visibility even if it isn’t stated. In one extraordinary moment that dominates the documentary, viewers are taken into Schulthess’ compound and house (which he called “Casa Reggio”),
perched along a steep bank just outside the village of Auressio in the Onserone Valley in Switzerland. The camera hesitates outside Schulthess’ front door, zooming in on a Gorgon’s head while a narrator reads from some of Schulthess’ writing. When the door is thrown open, we enter a realm of madness. Massive piles of papers, some stacked, some jumbled, fill the room. Pictures hang from the ceiling, articles and books litter the floor and shelves, and random collections of items like jars and dolls overflow the room, in which hardly any space remains to walk. Schulthess hoarded his possessions and creations, but the camera lens shows us something unlike the imagery from current television shows about hoarding, which leaves one with the impression of gleaming Walmart goods being collected and stashed away. In Schulthess’ home, nothing is new, or white, or colorful. Everything is dark, in dusty tones of brown. Spider webs are black with dirt or smoke. Yellowing paper and collections of dusty books about astrology, sex and philosophy abound. It is gothic, and it is disturbing. While no one can likely say how many visitors Schulthess may have had (the film mentions at least one woman whom Schulthess courted for a wife despite the fact that she was already married), it was undoubtedly few. Our voyage into the place through the lens of Schlumpf, then, is the moment of visibility, of announcement. It is the public airing of a hidden history of profound, obsessive and compulsive artistic production. The land around his house was a garden of wire and wood sculpture and was something of his public face. Leaving the garden, a somber and more sinister version of Charlie Lucas’ sculpture garden or Lonnie Holley’s (now destroyed) environment, Schlumpf takes us into Schulthess’ house. This is the moment that his work finally becomes known to the world, and it is an extraordinarily unsettling
and intimate moment that the filmmaker has carefully created. Filmed in the 1970s in the years leading up to Schulthess’ death in 1973, J’ai Le Telephone (“I Have the Telephone”) has been released on DVD so that Schlumpf can make the case once again that Schulthess’ work needs to be more widely recognized. The issue, however, is that the vast majority of that work was destroyed upon his death, and virtually all that remains, apparently, are a few books and this film. In that way, Schlumpf’s work is as much an artistic production as is Schulthess’, and as such, in its own right likely deserves a broader audience. Schulthess was born in 1901, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and spent the greater part of his working life as a dressmaker. When the financial crash of the 1930s put him out of business, he traveled for a brief period before returning to Switzerland. He worked for the federal government until 1951, at which point he moved to Casa Reggio. In the film, one former supervisor describes him as both meek and subservient, but not unpleasant, and the reason for his retirement to the countryside is never made clear (if it is even known). What is clear is that it was at that point that Schulthess began his artistic work and became increasingly withdrawn from society. While the people of the nearby village all knew him and knew of his project on the hillside, he apparently had no particularly close friends. When he died, his heirs employed local villagers to clean out his house and gardens. The film documents the moment when locals haul out pile after pile of paper, scavenge for useable items and then throw everything into a fire. We are witness to the loss. Schulthess’ artistic production came in primarily two forms: the rambling art environment around his house, which no
longer exists, and the creation of books. Among the chestnut trees on his land, Schulthess had created little stations, including what he called a cinema, where he placed boards, cut-out metal and paper scrawled with wisdom culled from his intensive and lifelong reading on sex, astrology and mysticism. Some of the sayings are trite, some humorous and some unsettling, and the artist apparently intended his land to be a kind of museum where the object under study was not art or nature or history, but thought itself. Similarly, Schulthess created books. He compiled articles, cut out newspaper stories, wrote notes, typewrote long ruminations and bound them into volumes. The books took up a whole wall of his house, and only a few have survived. He used his books to express his thoughts on sex, including on fetishism, and we are given a glimpse into one book that provides page after page of anatomical drawings of women’s reproductive organs. The film’s strength is its access and framing of these intimate creations. Among the DVD’s bonus features are pdf files of some of the books that allow you to page through the creations and see the work of Schulthess up close. (Schlumpf also has just published a book about Schulthess, though it is not yet available in English.) The DVD also contains a map of the environment and, most importantly, an extended black and white sequence that simply shows the burning of all of Schulthess’ papers by the villagers. There is no voice-over, only music, and the camera for 15 minutes follows load after load as it is at first rifled through, then dumped into the fire. It is a hard sequence to forget, and it is as important as any part of the documentary itself. Schlumpf has done more than just reintroduce Schulthess to the world. He has somehow made us know him. —ROGER THOMPSON
The Outsider 51
Howard Finster, Behold I Stand at the door and KnocK #3087, oct. 19, 1983, arient Family collection, PHotograPH by Jim Prinz
William Thomas Thompson, Hell, acrylic, courTesy The arTisT
sanford smith’s 20th anniversary
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52 The Ou tsid er
The Outsider 53
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein From the Wand of the Genii
Slotin Folk Art Auction EMITTE HYCH
November 12-13 Buford, Georgia Presents the FALL MASTERPIECE SALE
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Untitled painting, # 533 - Dec 29, 1956 , Oil on Masonite, 24 x 24 inches Collection of Cindy and Michael Noland
September 16, 2011 January 14, 2012 Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
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The Outsider February 10 – June 30, 2012
In collaboration with the Loyola University Museum of Art, Intuit will present HEAVEN+HELL, an exhibition exploring the themes of heaven and hell as conceived by outsider, folk and self-taught artists. The content may be benign or horrific, delusional or commentative on contemporary life, obsessive or minimal in design, but usually, on the face of the work, highly interpretative.
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