“I wanna grow old with you.”
—Robbie Hart (The Wedding Singer)
The American Visionary Museum in Baltimore harnessing a different kind of culture: the quirky visionary or eccentric visionary. Here is what they call the “Illumination”, half history/half mission.
The American Visionary Art Museum seeks to build upon the ancient Native American Vision Quest, and other similar self-revelatory journeys undertaken by visionaries in different times, cultures, and places. We seek to draw attention to America’s history as a mecca for forward-looking innovators, optimists, dreamers and doers -highlighting the sense that America is at her best when she actively remembers that many of her greatest citizens were very much self-taught, self-made pioneers. Peabody and Smithson, for example, left us great institutions of learning out of their own distinctively uninstitutional, self-taught and self-authored educational experiences. The genius of the young Wright Brothers, likewise, shines most when the full measure of their remarkable accomplishments is understood. Without benefit of a college education, these two young brothers engaged in the greatest scientific battle of their day against some of the most famous, highly trained, best-educated and highly esteemed scientists from both America and Germany. The Wright Brothers also competed against the tremendous financial resources of a set of shrewd competitors in the race for sustained manned flight. Yet, as we know, the young brothers not only succeeded in making the crucial breakthrough in manned flight before many noteworthy opponents, but they in fact solved the enormous problem of discovering just how to steer a plane in flight.
We believe that being overly indoctrinated with ideas of what is not supposed to work, or what cannot work, only stifles human innovation and idea making. A freethinking educational environment opens the self-taught innovator to a greater range of dynamic possibilities. It is this total openness to the many potentialities of change that remains at the heart of true invention -and it is in this spirit that we offer these educational goals, which we believe apply equally well to people of every age and background.
Check it out: http://www.avam.org/
I actually interned here last summer, and it is one of the best museums I have ever been to. The fact that all the art is by regular(ish) people who have never received classical training in the arts makes the work incredibly accessible, and the backstories of all the artists are always included in relation to the works they create. And their backstories are so weird! There’s the guy who took 15 years to make a giant hot air balloon in the desert out of the back of his pickup truck (the balloon is reconstructed and rotates in the barn section of the museum), and when it ended up not working, he decided to make a mountain in the desert in order to spread his message that “God is Love.”He learned to make stucco literally by good luck and intuition. And there are robots that a sweet old man from the Midwest made. He used to take them to the local Wal-Mart just to stand around with them and say hi to people. Two of the robots that AVAM has are married to each other; the marriage ceremony was held in the museum. There’s a woman with severe Down’s Syndrome who makes these strange, beautiful bundles of objects and yarn. She started making them in an art therapy program her sister enrolled her in, and couldn’t stop. She’d work obsessively on them, and steal objects from around the building (including other people’s stuff) to add to her bundles. Her work has been purchased by connaisseurs of visionary art and outsider art for thousands of dollars. Kids love this museum because the art in it is entirely unpretentious and supposed to be fun — and it really is. There’s a giant whirlgig outside that spins entirely on windpower, and some crazy Rube Goldberg-like contraptions you can operate (my favorite is Cram Guy — he’s basically a giant windup toy studying for finals and, as a slave of art history I relate to that on a deeply personal level), and a mechanical circus you can play with as well. The museum also hosts a Kinetic Sculpture Race at the beginning of every summer, and it’s started a trend among other visionary/outsider art museums (youtube “American Visionary Art Museum Kinetic Sculpture Race,” the vehicles are amazing and you might see my old boss Theresa talking about the AVAM kinetic sculpture contestant Fifi, a 2-story-tall pink poodle. Barney’s department store in NYC wanted to borrow her for a display, but she was too big so they made a slightly smaller one that now keeps Fifi company in the museum barn). It’s hard to explain to a six-year-old why they should care about Rembrandt, but you don’t have to explain why it’s so cool that a middle-aged alcoholic ex-champion frisbee player from San Francisco built a six-foot-high rollercoaster for pingpong balls that takes you on a tour of the features and personal landmarks of his town using only toothpicks and Elmer’s glue. Fun fact: It separates into two halves. To install it, he carried each half up the main steps to the second-floor gallery on his back, and set it down, one half on top of the other. Done. And when asked what to do if a piece fell off, he said to just stick it back on with some Elmer’s glue. Knowing what makes the artwork special is not dependent on a secret, jealously guarded, precious collection of knowledge, and if you ever grow weary of “the canon,” AVAM will make everything better.
I was talking with my conservatory friend Christian the day after the kkk-hood incident on campus, and we were talking about the diversity of education we receive as American liberal arts college students and how possible it was to revise the curriculum to include music and art outside the West. He was saying that even if the conservatory wanted to teach certain kinds of African and Indonesian musical traditions, they would be so far out of their original context it almost wouldn’t make sense to have them taught. For example, he thought it wouldn’t make sense for a Ghanaian drum circle to perform in Warner concert hall. This made me think of internationally acclaimed and recognized artists (like Banksy) whose preferred medium is not readily institutionalize-able, and whether we do them a disservice by trying to squeeze them into a context that venerates them, but that they ultimately do not want to be a part of.
James King by Nan Goldin
E hoi e, mixed media, 2001 - John Armleder
Please forgive me my trespasses into the McSweeney’s internet publication. Selfies of Becky Jones throws a humorous light on issues of authenticity of the object (the way I see it, selfies are a little bit like the jazz standard or cover song, only astronomically more egocentric) and technological display, especially as it pertains to individually-curated websites like facebook pages and tumblrs, as well as being completely ridiculous.
Welcome to the exhibit, Innocence and Narcissism: A Retrospective of Selfies by Becky Jones. This is the first time ever that all of Jones’ selfie…