Enigmas Rapt in Mysteries: American Art Without Epoch
December 18, 2014 – February 7, 2015
Timeless is a key word for the great art in this field. It is powerful and relevant no matter when it is seen. It is not tied in any way to the faddism of mainstream art movements. Any work by any artist in this exhibition might have been called Art Brut by Jean Dubuffet back in the day. But in fact there was almost no American material in the original Art Brut collection. The reasons are very simple. At the time Dubuffet was putting together his magnificent collection the work from the Americas was little known. In fact, the only documented exposure really to African-American works were six paintings by the Haitian master Hector Hyppolite, which Andre Breton brought back to Paris and gave to the Compagnie L’Art Brut. He took the paintings back when the collection came to the United States. The field is an organic entity, always changing. As attention began to be paid to idiosyncratic artists who were shapeshifters within their own cultures, or who came from non-European backgrounds and were forced to live in two realities, two cultures simultaneously, Dubuffet’s original concept became locked in time.
The artists in this exhibition were not known to the architects of the Art Brut temple. The word ‘outsider’ has indeed haunted them but it has rendered itself impotent by its inclusion of anything people consider eccentric. We have chosen to curate this exhibition with certain criteria in mind. The criteria are: The artists are self-taught. Not one of them makes work for a mainstream agenda. For all, the process of making the work is of equal or greater importance than the finished piece. None intentionally made work for the art market. Each of them made work to define their own senses of Place, or healing, or spiritual accounting, or self-definition. Even if the work speaks in the language of a culture, we chose those whose forms are little or not at all limited by formal tradition. They are all very American and very iconoclastic.
Although we see African-American work now in the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne and in important Art Brut-oriented collections, African-American art really represents a sort of wild border to the canon decreed by Dubuffet. When push comes to shove, no art in the world can be made outside human culture so we have to go with the assumption that it is only work made outside the Art Mainstream Culture that applies. Even flint-knapping holds the baggage of hunting gathering society. We can never know what Dubuffet really might have felt about the work from the Americas. Surely the African-American inclusion would have made for an amazing discourse. Take, for example, the work of JB Murray, which he originally made as a way of communicating to his community about being spiritually saved or lost, and which was so extreme to some that he was banished from his church, and regarded with suspicion as to his mental state. Later he was welcomed back and even allowed to do some preaching when it was seen that his vision was sincere and his state of spiritual intensity was deemed truly coming from above. So the culture changed and absorbed his iconoclastic intensity.
This work continues to pick up mojo despite the failure to lock it into any consistent definition. It does not fit mainstream criteria. It has no agenda. It has power in its mysteries. And it is not stuck in time. Its forms and intentions are fluid and ever changing.
Artists included are: Chelo González Amezcua, Emery Blagdon, Peter Charlie Besharo, Ras Dizzy, Felipe Jesus Consalvos, Guyodo, Errol McKenzie, J.B. Murray, Melvin Edward Nelson, Norma Oliver, Philadelphia Wireman, Martín Ramírez, Anthony Joseph Salvatore, Jon Serl, Gregory Van Maanen, Helen Butler Wells, Joseph Yoakum, and others.
For further information please contact: Shari Cavin, Caroline Casey, or Marissa Levien at 212-226 3768, or firstname.lastname@example.org.