Dear members and friends,
Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum soon takes to the road on its six-city national tour. This remarkable exhibition, which features more than 100 artworks from the Museum’s renowned collection, has captured the imaginations of so many visitors from around the world. Saturday, August 16, its next-to-last day in New York City, will be a celebration of sorts. A members’ reception early in the day (noon–2 pm) will provide the opportunity for members to receive exclusive discounts and other treats in the Museum Shop as well as a tour of the show. Later in the day (4–7 pm), a happy hour is scheduled for all visitors. Please join us as we send off Self-Taught Genius, the exhibition the New York Times called “Inspiration Made Concrete.”
Although the exhibition closes at the Museum on August 17, exhibition content will be available on its dedicated website. Essays and articles related to the artworks will continue to be added to the website throughout the national tour. In addition, we have created a Curriculum Guide for teachers K–12, an educator’s resource which can be used before or after a visit to any of the museums where the exhibition will be on view. This rich resource—again thanks to the generosity of the Luce Foundation—provides more than 150 pages of lesson plans, images, resources, and activities relating to the artists and artworks in Self-Taught Genius. You can find more information about the Curriculum Guide here.
More Good News
The Museum has reached important milestones in this fiscal year: six exhibitions drew close to 120,000 visitors—an increase of 30% from the previous year! The shop underwent some important transformations, and sales are up; we added a video screen to our facade; and we saw increases in school and public programs, docent-led tours, hands-on workshops, performances, and special events.
Exciting New Exhibitions
Exhibitions this fall will focus on two important figures. Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget opens September 2 and Willem van Genk: Mind Traffic opens September 10. Both offer new perspectives on art by the self-taught.
Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) was born and raised in the Fordham section of the Bronx. The son of Italian immigrants, Fasanella worked with his father delivering ice in the years prior to widespread household refrigeration. This experience engendered his respect for laborers and hardworking Americans, which became the source of inspiration for all of his artworks. Later on, as a young man, he fought in the Spanish Civil War and worked as a union organizer. Fasanella’s paintings depict historic and imagined scenes that recall the ways in which political systems affect the lives of individuals and communities.
Dr. Valérie Rousseau, Curator, art of the self-taught and art brut, says: “There is a deep public and social component at the origin of Fasanella’s artistic vision. He wished for his paintings to be seen by workers on the walls of large union halls and speak to the masses in community gathering places. The formulation of his ideas and his contributions recall Diego Rivera’s murals and ambitions.”
Through his artworks, Fasanella always revealed his deep and compassionate concern for his fellow New Yorkers and Americans.
Dr. Rousseau provides a unique curatorial eye in the exhibition Willem van Genk: Mind Traffic. Van Genk lived in the Netherlands throughout his life, and he traveled extensively. Although diagnosed with schizophrenia, his brilliant works depict urban panoramas with all their complexity, transportation systems, varying styles of architecture, and people interacting with their surroundings and with each other. Van Genk is one of the most celebrated of European art brut artists and this is the first exhibition of his work to be presented in the United States.
Dr. Rousseau comments, “I interpret these imaginary landscapes as ‘memory palaces’ which served as platforms and scaffolds that enabled van Genk to fix, immortalize, and map hidden forces. His art becomes a sophisticated device for him to process the world around him and maintain control over his daily routine and identity.”
Both of these artists demonstrate a keen awareness of the physical, social, and political environments surrounding them. Fasanella and van Genk each created works that are carefully observed and scrupulously—pointedly—detailed. And both witnessed, on each side of the Atlantic, the technological transformations of the latter half of the twentieth century, which also had profound impacts on their work. It is a provocative pairing.
On The Horizon
Our beautiful fall Gala will take place on Thursday, October 23. It is our great privilege to honor Joyce B. Cowin for her leadership as a trustee and patron of our museum at 2 Lincoln Square for the past two decades. Through her vision and dedication, Joyce Cowin has ensured that folk art is accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, from New York and around the world.
In recognition of their commitment to the museum, the Henry Luce Foundation, represented by Board Chair Margaret Boles Fitzgerald, is also an honoree. We will recognize Richard Walker for his passionate interest in folk art and longtime service to the American Folk Art Museum and Deutche Bank for their continued sponsorship of innovative educational programs in the art world.
With Respect and Admiration
Let me reiterate, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, staff, and all our visitors, our collective gratitude to the Henry Luce Foundation. Its generous funding allowed us to create a unique artistic, historic, and aesthetic experience. Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum has provided an unprecedented opportunity for the American Folk Art Museum not only to celebrate some of our great treasures, but also to share them in all corners of America, heralding the unique American creative force. I look forward to seeing the exhibition at each venue and personally greeting you there.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice