Editor’s letter, May/June 2015

Elizabeth Pochoda

Elizabeth Pochoda Opinion

We missed something this spring, and at this point all I can do is urge you not to miss it too. I refer to When the Curtain Never Comes Down at the American Folk Art Museum, closing July 5. There is much to say, even much to debate, about what is happening with outsider art in the museum’s galleries, and had their schedule and ours meshed there would have been many pages in this issue devoted to saying it. To be brief, the exhibition has assembled several rich examples of outsider art from the late nineteenth century to the present that merge into performance, into film, into music, and most of all into magnificent self-display. There is no catalogue yet, but there will be one eventually so that is some consolation. Many of the twenty seven artists will be unfamiliar, coming as they do from all over the globe—from Brazil, Russia, Italy, and Germany but also from Alton, Illinois, Detroit, and New Jersey. No matter. The work is beautiful, sometimes unsettling, frequently moving, and even transporting on occasion.

I was impressed by the elaborate wall labels written without the biographical voyeurism and prurience that sometimes accompany work by people on the outer reaches of what we consider normal. This is the first full-scale show by Valérie Rousseau, the museum’s new curator of twentieth-century and contemporary art, and it is a landmark—just one more example of AFAM surviving and thriving after the loss of its beautiful building and the financial reversals of the Esmerian debacle. Don’t miss it.

What you can see now and, one hopes forever, is the new Whitney Museum of American Art on the western edge of New York’s Meatpacking District. And you should, because the Whitney has had a change of heart, or perhaps I should say the Whitney has found its heart again. We will follow its fortunes in future issues but discover the museum for yourself; it has been perfectly designed for that.

Enough about New York. It is spring elsewhere too, and we have historic gardens in Georgia and Virginia, paintings in Maine, Coney Island in Hartford, and Thomas Hart Benton in the studios of Walt Disney. You will also find some observations on Russian modernism and a new look at the brilliant Eileen Gray whose moment has finally come again. We have, moreover, a fine article by Margaret Pritchard on Mark Catesby’s bald eagle, which turns out to be the work of Catesby and another artist, George Edwards. When I asked Pritchard how common it was for artists to collaborate in this way, she explained that Catesby valued his work as a naturalist and often found the obligations of art somewhat inconvenient. In other words, he might have thought our pecking order with artists at the top of the totem odd and our insistence on taking and assigning credit odder still. That’s something to keep in mind as we look at the past from where we stand.