What will Mother think on Mother's Day?
If ever there were a better word to describe the huge eclectic mix of homespun art (and more) now at the National Gallery of Art, than “outliers,” what might that be?
Nine rooms, spread over "acres" it seems, contain many variable pieces of art in all forms of media.
John B. Flannagan, 1895-1942, Dragon, 1932-1933, Whitney Museum of American Art, and, in background, William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Noah's Ark, c. 1930, Robert M. Greenberg Collection/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I welcome opportunities to see the ways artists interpret their surroundings and life, and bring to viewers and themselves, that which stuns and sometimes stimulates, not all for the good.
A mix of overlooked artists and those treated with disdain by the arts community over the last 100 years, is presented in this exhibition with more established names, like Marsden Hartley, Henri Rousseau, Edward Hicks, James Benning, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Jacob Lawrence.
William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Angel, 1931, Robert M. Greenberg Collection/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of it is disturbing and painful, like certain pieces by Forrest Bess (1911-1977), a paranoid schizophrenic who developed a cult following in the 1980s and conducted experiments on himself (with photographs) in his quest to become a hermaphrodite.
Many renderings document mental conditions, illnesses, and family backgrounds. Optimism is missing, a reflection of the time which the exhibition unfolds in three separate periods of turmoil, fast change, and revolution: 1924-1943, 1968-1992, and 1998-2013.
William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Tombstone with Bird, 1934-1941, Newark Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The first period leads up to and includes the Second World War; the second, the anti-war movement and worldwide revolution, and the third blends the unschooled and schooled where difference is not a disadvantage but more traditional materials and practices balance the cosmos.
I must start with works by sculptor William Edmondson (1874-1951) from Nashville, my former home, and the growing reputation he has earned as his works continue to capture collectors' admiration.
William Edmondson, 1874-1951, Jack Johnson, 1934-1941, Newark Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In January, 2016, at Christie's Mr. Edmondson's Boxer set a world auction record for a piece of outsider art, selling for $785,000, a price perhaps since exceeded.
I well remember the press and accolades his sculptures received at a 1981 exhibition at the Tennessee State Museum, one of the first institutions to honor him, preceded in 1937 by the Museum of Modern Art when Mr. Edmondson became the first black artist to have a solo show.
His birth date is uncertain due to a fire which destroyed the family Bible where important events were kept. Census records reveal that Mr. Edmondson, the son of slaves, was likely born in 1874.
He worked at various jobs and sold vegetables he grew in his backyard when, in 1934, a vision from God told Mr. Edmondson to begin sculpting a tombstone which he did, and kept going, using discarded limestone from old buildings to make decorative yard art, religious pieces, and more cemetery markers.
He never enjoyed much of a reputation while he was living, but public exposure was not a goal. He was driven by his heart to make godly things.
Sister Gertrude Morgan, 1900-1980, Revelation 7 chap., c. 1970, The Museum of Everything, London
A photo of Sister Gertrude Morgan in 1974 by Joshua Horwitz
The show's catalog is about as big as the show itself with essays, excellent biographical sketches of all 80 artists, full color plates of their 280 pieces in the exhibition, and a handy checklist at the rear with names, titles, and dates. Once the catalog is opened, it is difficult to close.
Florine Stettheimer, 1871-1944, Father Hoff, 1928, University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Edward Hicks, 1780-1849, The Cornell Farm, 1848, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Joseph Pickett, 1848-1918, Coryell's Ferry 1776, c. 1914-1918, Whitney Museum of American Art
William H. Johnson, 1901-1970, John Brown Legend, c. 1945, Smithsonian American Art Museum
David Butler, 1898-1997, Untitled (Windmill with Rooster), c. 1950, American Folk Art Museum, New York
Eugene von Bruechehein, 1910-1983, both titled Crown, upper, 1940s, Lewis and Jean Greenblatt, and lower, no date, Philadelphia Museum of Art/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The show moves next to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, June 24–September 30, 2018, and then, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 18, 2018–March 18, 2019
The exhibition has something for everyone. No one will be bored. Especially not Mama on Mother's Day. I can't wait to get back!
Besides those listed above, other artists represented are: Morton Bartlett, Mary Lee Bendolph, Anonymous, Steve Ashby, Henry Bannarn, Patrociño Barela, Camille Bombois, Roger Brown, James Castle, Bruce Conner, Henry Darger, Roy De Forest, Sam Doyle, Louis Michel Eilshemius, and Howard Finster.
Also, The Gansevoort Limner, Lee Godie, Palmer Hayden, Mary Heilmann, Morris Hirshfield, Lonnie Holley, Jesse Howard, Index of American Design, Malvin Gray Johnson, John Kane, Greer Lankton, Lawrence Lebduska, Zoe Leonard, José Dolores López, Séraphine Louis, Al Loving,
And, Matt Mullican, Elie (Eliasz) Nadelman, Senga Nengudi,
Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, John Outterbridge,
Dominique-Paul Peyronnet, Elijah Pierce, Howardena Pindell, Horace Pippin, Noah Purifoy, Christina Ramberg,
Martín Ramírez, Barbara Rossi, Betye Saar, Judith Scott,
Nancy Shaver, Charles Sheeler, and Cindy Sherman.
Alan Shields, Lorna Simpson, Drossos P. Skyllas, Janet Sobel, Jessica Stockholder, Patrick J. Sullivan, James “Son Ford” Thomas, Edgar Tolson, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Bill Traylor,Type 42 (Anonymous), Kara Walker, P. M. Wentworth, H. C. Westermann, William T. Wiley, Joseph E. Yoakum, Annie Mae Young, and William Zorach
What: Outliers and American Vanguard Art
When: The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday. The exhibition closes Sunday, May 13, 2018.
Where: East Building, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.
Admission charge: Never at the National Gallery of Art.
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives or L'Enfant Plaza
For more information: 202-737-4215
Catalog: Prices for the nearly 400 paged catalog in soft and hard cover start at $29.95 but a 20% discount with online orders over $100 may be obtained at this link.