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Traylor in Motion: Wonders from New York Collections

June 11, 2013–September 22, 2013
Exhibition

Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949) forged a personal iconography of recurring characters and subjects. They exhibit the artist’s photographic memory by recalling images, sounds, or movements with clear precision. In their protean nature, these subconscious fragments return in multiple drawings, forming interrelated sequences in a single feature that offer significant parallels with cinematic production and its images in motion. Late in his life, the street scene in Montgomery itself contributed a kind of cinema verité, adding a fertile complexity to themes that beg to be thought of together, stakeholders in a continuous, coherent scene. In this regard no detail is superficial but is always connected to an ongoing dynamic cycle.

“Traylor in Motion: Wonders from New York Collections” delves into this aspect of Traylor’s vision by considering specific groups of figures and gestures and their implications: the development of action through staged poses—subjects mostly looking right, with expressive pointed fingers; the tension created by offset spatial compositions; the introduction of vibrant colors; startling metamorphoses; and the sinuous movement of bodies from contortion to the astonishing balletic extension of a limb. High-kicking legs evoke the exuberance of such dances of the era as the gymnastic Lindy Hop. But such posturing may also be a sly reference to the satirical strut of the “cakewalk,” a subversive plantation dance that mocked the formal grand marches and minuets of the slaveholders through exaggerated movements. Often the women wore long dresses with hoop skirts and the men sported high hats, split-tail coats, and walking sticks.

These moving images become lines of force: jumps and ellipses between cause and effect, stirring up the surfaces. Yet the ritualistic cinema created by Traylor is not a strict narrative, social commentary, or reaction to historical fact. Mysterious and intimate, it carries a reinvented perception of reality laden with fantasies, myths, and symbols.

Stacy C. Hollander, chief curator and director of exhibitions
Dr. Valérie Rousseau, curator, art of the self-taught and art brut

The curators gratefully acknowledge the generosity of the following lenders to this exhibition: Collection of Audrey Heckler, Collection of Susan and Jerry Lauren, Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection, Collection of Siri von Reis, Collection of Luise Ross, and a private collection.

Artworks

Untitled (Spread-Legged Drinker)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1939–1942
Poster paint and pencil on cardboard
9 x 13 1/2 in.
Collection of Susan and Jerry Lauren
Photo by Adam Reich

Untitled (Man with Amputated Leg)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1939–1942
Poster paint and charcoal pencil on cardboard
15 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.
Collection of Siri von Reis
Photo by Adam Reich

Untitled (Woman in Black Dress with Blue Purse)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1939–1942
Graphite and poster paint on cardboard
13 3/8 x 7 3/8 in.
Private collection

Untitled (Figure: Construction, Black, Brown, Red)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1940–1942
Pencil and poster paint on cardboard
15 1/8 x 7 1/4 in.
Collection of Audrey Heckle
Photo by Adam Reich

 

Untitled (Man and Large Dog) (double-sided)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1939–1942
Poster paint and pencil on cardboard
27 3/4 x 21 7/8 in.
Collection of Susan and Jerry Lauren
Photo by Adam Reich

Untitled (Exciting Event: Man on Chair, Man with Rifle, Dog Chasing Girl, Yellow Bird, and Other Figures)
Bill Traylor (c. 1854–1949)
Montgomery, Alabama
1939–1942
Poster paint, pencil, colored pencil, and charcoal on cardboard
15 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.
Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection

Credits

The exhibition is sponsored in part by Joyce Berger Cowin, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, and Laura and Richard Parsons. Lectures and symposia are supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Resources
The Museum the Critics and the Self-taught
Watch video of the Bill Traylor panel discussion

Reviews
The Shape of the World Passing Before His Eyes
– Roberta Smith
Traylor in Motion: Wonders from New York Collections and Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
– Alana Shilling
Bill Traylor at the American Folk Art Museum
– Andrew Russeth