“Great & Mighty Things”

Only five days remain until it ends, but if you can make it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before June 9th, you can see the exhibit  “Great and Mighty Things.

The show features what used to be called “folk art,” but which now is more commonly known as “outsider art”; that is,  it’s produced by self-taught artists who are, generally, uneducated, and poor. Quite often, they’re members of minority or immigrant communities. Their media include corrugated siding, house paint, paper scraps, or chicken bones.

The majority of the artists in this show haven’t displayed their works in galleries or profited financially from their crafts. There are exceptions, such as Howard Finster, who made a tidy sum after being “discovered” in the 1970s. (He  created the album art for R.E.M.’s Reckoning and Talking Heads’ Little Creatures). However, the majority of the art on display has been created by often-isolated and unknown artists–street preachers, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the extremely poor–who channeled their energies into paintings and sculptures that alternate between vivacious and contemplative, spiritual and bawdy.

My favorite piece: the smiling, energetic BOFFO by William L. Hawkins (totally the show’s star).  A close second: the charming lynx by Felipe Benito Archuleta.

The exhibition’s artist list is here.

Aside: for a rather condescending (privilieged, perhaps) review of Hawkins’s work, see Grace Glueck’s article in The New York Times of October, 1997.

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