Saturday, March 3, 2012

American Folk Art Museum

One of my favorite museums in NYC!
The Museum's front doors.

One of my favourite museums in New York is the American Folk Art Museum.  The museum has been going through some financial troubles in recent times and had to close it's main gallery which was located next to MOMA.  This has left the museum based near the Lincoln Centre in a much smaller space but they are still producing fantastic exhibitions and are really engaging with their community.

Folk art cat
Everyone loves a folk art cat.

The current exhibition is 'Jubilation/Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined'.  The curatorial theme looks at ideas of imagination and fantasy in folk art.

Curatorial statement by Senior Curator, Stacy C. Hollander:

Life is not lived in black and white: reality may have the tinge of dreams and dreams an air of reality. This provocative tension exists between the experiential nature of early American folk art and the fantastical imagery it often displays—between what is real and what is imagined. 

The same is true of the work of contemporary self-taught artists, which may introduce unique—and sometimes puzzling—expressions that illuminate the iconoclastic nature that is the flip side of the collective American psyche. The viewer is placed in the peculiar but exhilarating position of deciding for him- or herself whether the artwork expresses a disjuncture with reality or an uninhibited embracing of interior life. After all, what is more true, the picture that looks real or the picture that feels real; the observer or the observed? 

These perceptions shift as new scholarship emerges. Often, real-life roots are discovered for even arcane and esoteric imagery that has already influenced our response to an artist and his work: does this disappoint or satisfy the viewer? Diminish or enhance the creativity of the artist? One need only contemplate the culture- and memory-driven gestures of Martín Ramírez, the impressionistic nineteenth-century portraits by Dr. and Mrs. Shute, and minimalist mid-twentieth-century soot drawings by James Castle to render these distinctions immaterial. Instead the viewer is urged to enjoy the permeable fluidity between art and imagination, dream and belief.

American folk art museum

One of the aspects of folk art that appeals to me is the inventiveness of the artists.  Many of the works are made using very everyday materials.  Artists are creating with whatever they can get their hands on and this sense of urgency is something that draws the viewer in, though sometimes it can be a little manic!

The works are also made with such heart.  You can feel the artists need to produce and to present their feelings to the wider world.  I was taken with some of the self-portrait works, which also interests me in the fine art world too.  However the self portrait works take on more meaning when made from unusual materials, as if the artists has been compelled to say, "I am here, this is me".

If you get the chance to check out the museum and this exhibition, do it!  It is a wonderful museum and they need all the support they can get!

American folk art museum

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