29 September 2014

A Room With a View: Peering Into the Universe of Henry Darger

Taking a note of inspiration from Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence and subsequent written work The Small Museum published in the New York Times magazine earlier this year, I visited the Henry Darger Room Collection at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Below is the piece that I composed in response to the experience.


The red brick exterior of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is unassuming – but contained within its walls is a peek into the universe of the artist Henry Darger. Stepping into the front of the museum is like stepping into someone’s home, there were no ticket-taking kiosks or guards. This welcome is a fitting introduction for a museum that holds the only evocation of Darger’s home, a one-room apartment of creative intrigue.


As I made my way to The Henry Darger Room Collection, I acclimated myself to the style and aesthetic of outsider art. On view were naïve paintings of celebrities like Elvis, Steve Buschemi, and James Van Der Beek – which showed how spectacular the art of an untrained hand could be. Subject matter and artistic materials varied, but it was clear that the work in this museum celebrates the creative potential all people possess. Toward the back corner of the rear gallery laid Darger’s Room. Entering the room is an experiential feast for the eyes. Though the space was cluttered, it felt sacred – a sanctuary tucked away from the hustle of the city streets.
 
There were piles of National Geographic magazines and stacks of mismatched boxes each hand labeled to reveal the contents within. To my right was a tattered wicker laundry basket full to the brim with rolled balls of twine. Magazine cutouts, religious ephemera, images of little girls, and photographs of plumes of smoke were framed and hung in a rhythmic pattern on the chocolate brown walls. I felt inspired while immersed in this space, the walls a collage of imagery and a large assortment of art supplies well within my grasp.

The ground that wasn’t covered in art supplies revealed hardwood floors. There was a wrought iron fireplace and oak mantel peppered with religious figurines and flanked by framed drawings of the Vivian Girls – images Darger used as source material throughout his sixty-year career. To my left was a table covered in coloring books, crayons, tubes of acrylic paint, and neat piles of magazines and newspaper tied with twine.

But what grabbed me was the desk where he worked. Beneath a dimly lit chandelier sat a circular wooden table. It was covered with faded magazines, repurposed cigar boxes filled with crayons, acrylics, and watercolors, and a single cartoon of a little girl. Above the table hung an array of framed images, my favorite written in Darger’s familiar scrawl NO SMOKING UNDER NO CONDITIONS??! – a humorous message made for and seen only by Darger. It was at this desk that he put pen to paper, painstakingly transferring images of little girls and men on horseback into his fanciful landscapes of a fantasy world that made sense to him alone. The chair mirrored the desk in its clutter, there was nowhere to sit, there was nowhere to rest.

It wasn’t until I read the single didactic panel that it hit me – there wasn’t a bed in the room. Darger’s work, a combination of drawings and writings some of which were twelve feet in length, were so large he couldn’t fully open them in his one room apartment. So devoted to his work, he ultimately chose to store his art supplies on his bed sleeping at the table and chair in which he worked, hence the omission of a bed in this display.

The limited didactic material in the room led me to examine in detail the desk, the framed images, and the various containers. I mentally reached out to open the boxes and thumbed through stacks of magazines. I imagined what it would be like to live in solitude existing in a creative fortress carefully built for one. For what was left untold by the curators was also left untold by Darger himself. What little is known of him has left space for questions and mystery. By experiencing Darger through his collection, we can only begin to form a picture of him using one of his greatest tools: the imagination.

18 September 2014

This Weekend

This weekend is the premiere art-going gallery-hopping weekend in Chicago. Between tonight and Sunday evening, I'm hoping to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, Kavi Gupta, the Sullivan Galleries, Antena, EXPO Chicago, Gallery 400, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Take a deep breath with me, there doesn't that feel better?

Here's a rundown of what I will be doing, seeing, snapping photos of, oggling at, and potentially reviewing:

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 
The Art Institute of Chicago // June 24 - Oct. 16, 2014

Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance), (1936) via Art History News Report
The final days of the major Magritte retrospective are upon us, and with that I am visiting the Art Institute for one final viewing of his work. Surrealism has a tendency to be off-putting, with the jarring imagery that seems to stand outside of time or place. Using the techniques laid out by Renaissance artists like trompe l'oeil, Magritte employs his talent for painting "the real" and turning it on its head. As a viewer, standing before his work is arresting. It's difficult to comprehend, breathtaking, satisfying and unsatisfying all at once. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in his paintings, sculptures, and works on paper one final time.

Kavi Gupta Gallery // Sept. 19 - Nov. 15, 2014 

Image via Kavi Gupta Gallery
"I was born to do great things are the quoted words of Sandra Bush, Mickalene Thomas's late mother, a statement that speaks for both the dynamic life that she lived as well as her influence and inspiration on Thomas's artistic practice as her longtime muse. Bush has been prominent as a subject in Thomas's works over the past 14 years, inspiring her examinations of identity and style through her magnetic personality and undeniable presence. This presentation of new work explores the personal story of the woman behind the inspiration. This is a story in celebration of womanhood, motherhood, and the power of art as a totem for personal memory, a story in celebration of Sandra." - Kavi Gupta Gallery

Earlier this year, Mickalene Thomas released a documentary about her mother as her artistic muse. It looks incredibly moving, with heartfelt conversations relating Thomas' work to her close relationship with her mother, Sandra.


A Proximity of Social Consciousness: Art and Social Action
SAIC Sullivan Galleries // Sept. 20 - Dec. 20, 2014

Morgan Shoal: Lake Bottom Land Use by Dan Peterman image
via A Lived Practice
"At the core of Chicago’s intellectual and creative life stand these influential artists for whom this city itself was a springboard for a new way of thinking about art at the intersection of society. Their work has influenced generations, having made social practice a worldwide phenomenon. Now this exhibition brings their ideas alive through 10 newly commissioned projects. Exhibiting artists: Jim Duignan, Pablo Helguera (BFA 1993), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (MFA 1985), Dan Peterman, Pocket Guide to Hell, J. Morgan Puett (BFA 1981), Michael Rakowitz, Tamms Year Ten, Temporary Services, and Rirkrit Tiravanija (MFA 1986)."
 - The Sullivan Galleries

A Home coming: videos by Cara Megan Lewis and Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera
Antena // Sept. 19 - Oct. 11, 2014

Photographic still from Antena

"The comfort of “home” is exploited in the three video works featured in the exhibition A Home coming. Each video is situated in a liminal, transitory space that complicates otherwise familiar places and implicates the role of the voyeur, blurring the distinction between reality and fiction. The exhibition will feature a collaborative artwork, and one individual work by each of the artists. 

For their individual works, both Cara and Alejandro appropriated existing “home videos.” For Cara’s video installation Let’s Do It, edited footage from a 1990 home music video - originally made in collaboration with her father - raises questions of early sexual awareness and depicts the fine line between confidence and self consciousness. Alejandro’s video on the other hand abstracts an overtly sexual video clip from a homemade porn he found online, offering a humorous perspective on that which is usually confined to the private realm. 

The setting of their collaborative video installation Cul-de-Sac is a subdivision of more than 100 houses all in the same state of construction. The timeless music box melody accompaniment implies a history and offers a counterpoint to the otherwise cultural void depicted in the footage of the construction site. The hypnotic video exposes the skeleton of a yet-to-be populated, already-scripted homogenous society that prizes superficial appearance over true quality." 
- Antena

EXPO Chicago
Navy Pier // Sept. 19 - Sept. 21, 2014

View of EXPO Chicago, 2012 via Navy Pier
If you can't make it to every single gallery, but want a slice (albeit, massive) of what is happing in the art world right now, buy a ticket to EXPO and run wild. 140 galleries representing 17 countries in 43 cities will be showing hundreds of works of art. It's a feast for the eyes as well as the senses, a massive space to immerse yourself in the art world.

My Barbarian Collective Performs "The Mother"
Gallery 400 // Sept. 19 (7 pm) and Sept 20. (3 pm)

A moment from "The Mother" via The Visualist
"My Barbarian performs a live staging of their adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, "The Mother." Telling the story of a working-class mother who becomes increasingly radicalized on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, the play centers on the power of the affective maternal relationship to foster social change. My Barbarian is a collective consisting of artists Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade. Founded in Los Angeles in 2000, My Barbarian combines elements of theater and visual art to create interdisciplinary works in video, music, performance, drawing, and sculpture."
- Gallery 400

MCA Talk: Curating Bowie
The Museum of Contemporary Art // Sept. 21, 2014 (1-2 pm)

Photograph via The MCA
"David Bowie Is* curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, present an overview of the exhibition and discuss Bowie’s life and work" 
- The MCA

09 September 2014

Grad School (The Miniest Reflection)

Hi there blog, I'm popping up for air to literally say "Hi there blog" and let you know that grad school is wonderful, full of people who are interested in exploring the world of museums with me, and bubbling over with homework and activity. I have already felt my brain muscle getting stronger from the last two weeks of readings, discussion, reflection, art openings, research, lectures, etc. and did I mention that it's only week two? WEEK TWO! Here are photos of some of things I managed to capture in the midst of running around like a chicken with my head cut off (albeit a black-dress wearin' gallery lovin' chicken).

If you're interested in what I'm taking right now, here's my course load:

  • Museum Genres, Practice, and Institutions
  • Writing for Exhibitions
  • Cultural Collections

If you are intrigued by these courses, or want to know what I am reading, I would be glad to post a reading list!!

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First day of school fashion, youth style.
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Blueberry chess pies, fresh from the oven at the Jane Addams Hull House
Museum as part of the summer Porch Project programming. YUM.
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Homework in the digital age, y'all.
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Immersing myself in the work and theory of Olafur Eliasson for my first presentation. Love you O.
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Hung wall labels for the first time at the My Barbarian show at Gallery 400, where I am an intern.
Sorry for the single smudge, I promise I will be better in time.
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One final shot of the installation and stage at Gallery 400.
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