Here is a curious turn of events: British folk art, although obviously many centuries old, is just this summer receiving its first ever museum exhibition. Robert Young, who with his wife Josyane has carried aloft the standard of European folk art in their handsome London gallery for several years now, discusses Tate Britain’s exhibition in this issue with his customary intelligence and brio. It is gratifying to see the Youngs’ passion for beautifully idiosyncratic work finally recognized in a museum setting.
By contrast, in our made-up nation where we have no ruling artistic tradition to inhibit us, museums have been busily celebrating, exhibiting, and validating the art of the folk without cease for most of the past century. At Antiques we continue do our part…thus this our annual (mostly) folk art issue. And still, after all this time of mining the field, there are surprises, from the little known-the Autry’s show of traditional and contemporary North American floral beadwork featured here-to the well-known but little discussed, American folk art erotica.
As to that last, it appears in Lisa Sigel’s meditation on vernacular expressions of sexual pleasure prompted by a collection of folk erotica assembled by two people with an eye for the ribald and the witty. The field of folk erotica is vast, encompassing psychologically challenged work like that of Henry Darger or Morton Bartlett, as well as the darker shores of sex arrayed in Raw Erotica, a compendium of outsider art on the subject, but this collection is something different, more mainstream and far sunnier. If it arouses an impulse it is that of laughter. Perhaps then it is a healthy place to begin, as Lisa Sigel does, to raise questions about the diversity of sexual expression, and to address the criteria by which some artworks may be shown in institutional settings, Robert Mapplethorpe’s somber depictions of sadomasochism for instance, while others, the witty and irreverent folk erotica by Collins Eisenhauer shown here, are not. Since the museum world is currently experiencing an unusual moment of creative openness (or instability if you prefer), the time may be right for exploring this among other neglected subjects in art and art history.
If you admire the work of Laura Beach, our deputy editor for special projects for the past two years, as I do, you will enjoy her article on the architecture and collections of Santa Fe’s Roque Lobato house. Laura has graced these pages with many such carefully researched and written pieces. She has now returned to Antiques and the Arts Weekly as managing editor where she will light up its pages. We will miss her in ours.