One sign of an important exhibition may be its ability to move us into unfamiliar territory. By that measure, as by others, the recent show at the American Folk Art Museum, When the Curtain Never Comes Down, has claimed our attention. Its twenty-seven self-taught/outsider artists are represented by both permanent works— assemblages, garments, instruments, drawings, and the like—but more significantly by their actions in movement, song, and other forms of evanescent self-display. In the current art climate it is a relief to encounter art that for the most part cannot be bought or sold. But surely we are drawn to these evangelists of the self for other, deeper reasons
Among the contents of the Allen Ginsberg Papers in Stanford University’s Green Library is a pair of worn and dirty tennis shoes. In the thousand linear feet of correspondence, photographs, manuscripts and notes, reel-to-reel recordings, performance posters, and broadsides, the beat-up sneakers hold their own. Purchased during his 1965 visit to Czechoslovakia, it is reasonable to surmise that Ginsberg wore the nondescript white canvas shoes to march in Prague’s May Day parade, to address a throng of students in the city square, and to cross the tarmac to an outbound plane when he was expelled from the Communist country a few days later
The eighteenth century had no pollsters to assess what voters really thought about their politicians, but even without such data, the eulogistic editorials that announced George Washington’s death in December 1799 make clear that the country’s first president had assumed a status as close to sainthood as anyone has ever done in the United States. John James Barralet’s print The Apotheosis of Washington and a spate of similarly grandiloquent depictions of the deceased leader rising into heaven speak volumes about the god-like reputation Washington assumed in the decades following the American Revolution.
After decades of lionization, what more could there be to say about Frida Kahlo? A great deal, as a visit to Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life, the new exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, proves. All it took was a fresh perspective and a unique team of talents.