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When the Curtain Never Comes Down

March 26–July 5, 2015

Most self-taught artists can be perceived as performance artists. Their work is infused with daily rituals, public actions, gestures, and enactments, defining a lifelong artistic practice for which the curtain never comes down. Beyond paintings and sculpture, the exhibition includes ceremonial clothes, kinetic apparatuses, ephemeral installations, writings, fragments of ever-changing constructions, music, recordings, and other statements that have been captured by photographers and filmmakers. The inventive devices and countless strategies these artists configure are expressions of an alter ego, which they assume for its power to transform the world and, above all, to transform their own connections to reality.

Historically, collectors and museums have prioritized artworks that are readily collectible and more conventional in their materials and techniques—an attitude that elucidates a direct relationship between conservation and recognition. The exhibition, which gathers 27 artists from around the world, delves into an underside of self-taught art and art brut, opening a door to the study of its neglected facets.
—Valérie Rousseau, PhD, curator, self-taught art and art brut

Featuring the work of:
Bill Anhang
Anton “The Great Antonio” Barichievich
Deborah Berger
Arthur Bispo do Rosário
Raimundo Borges Falcão
Léonide Chrol
Joe Coleman
Lonnie Holley
Hans Krüsi
Marie Lieb
Charlie Logan
Raphaël Lonné
Jean Loubressanes
Gustav Mesmer
Eijirō Miyama
Heinrich Anton Müller
Fernando Oreste Nannetti
Vahan Poladian
Melina Riccio
Martial Richoz
Rock N Roll
The Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple
Palmerino Sorgente
Giuseppe Versino
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
Theodor “Theo” Wagemann
Adolf Wölfli

Click here to purchase the accompanying publication When the Curtain Never Comes Down: Performance Art and the Alter Ego.

Images, from left:
Marie Lieb (dates unknown, Germany), Installation with torn strips of linen, designed on the floor of the psychiatric hospital where she lived, Germany, c. 1894, 4 5/16 x 6 5/16″, Collection Prinzhorn, Heidelberg, Germany, Inv. #1771_1. © Collection Prinzhorn.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983, United States), Untitled (Montage—Marie with Crown), Milwaukee, c. 1940s–50s, 35 mm color slide, Collection of Lewis and Jean Greenblatt. © Lewis B. Greenblatt, Chicago.

Heinrich Anton Müller (1869, France–1930, Switzerland), Müller and his self-built machine, Münsingen Psychiatric Hospital, Switzerland, c. 1914–1922, Collection Prinzhorn, Heidelberg, Germany, Inv. #1645. © Collection Prinzhorn.

Deborah Berger (1956–2005, United States), Untitled (Mask), East Windsor, New Jersey, before 1984, knitted Orlon, 26 1/2 x 33 1/4 x 13″, Collection American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, gift of the Art Council of New Orleans, FIC.2014.67. Photo by Mary Dwan, © American Visionary Art Museum.



Photograph by Malcom Gibson
Bill Anhang with Scepter and Smart Dumbbell
c. 1990
Digital image
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Anhang

Joe Coleman (b. 1955, United States)
The Man Who Walked Through Walls [Harry Houdini]
Acrylic on panel, mounted on a priest’s robe worn by Coleman during a performance
28 × 22 in.
D. B. Denholtz Collection
Courtesy Joe Coleman

Photograph by Kenneth Anderson
Charlie Logan in Alton, Illinois
c. 1980
35 mm color slide
Kenneth Anderson Archives, St. Louis
Courtesy Kenneth Anderson

Photograph by Marie-Christine Cyr and Georges Aubin Jr.
Palmerino Sorgente in His Workshop on Notre-Dame Street, Montreal
4 × 5 transparency
Société des arts indisciplinés, Montreal, Canada
Courtesy Société des arts indisciplinés

Arthur Bispo do Rosário (1909–1989, Brazil)
Dictionary of Names—Letter A, I. (double-sided)
needlework on fabric
50 13 ⁄16 × 80 11⁄16 in.
Museu Bispo do Rosário Arte Contemporânea, City Hall of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Courtesy Museu Bispo do Rosário Arte Contemporânea

Washington “Doc” Harris (1905–1995), Washington James “Mook” Harris (b. 1949), and the community of the Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple (founded 1960, United States)
Red House
Dried cane and enamel
83 × 52 × 33 in.
Collection of Harris Family of the Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple
Photo by James Perry Walker, courtesy Mary Mhoon Walker


Major support for the exhibition is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts: Art Works. Additional support is provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd., Joyce Berger Cowin, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, Fashion Institute of Technology, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, the Leir Charitable Foundations, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

"'When the Curtain Never Comes Down' is fresh, innovative and view-altering, introducing many artists virtually unknown in the United States . . . the show should deepen our appreciation of eccentricity as not only basic to creativity but to personal liberty and democracy itself."
– Roberta Smith
"This fresh collection of outsider art explores ritual, self-­promotion, and performance in the creative acts of the self­-taught."
– Robert Shuster
"The show . . . is a master class in curatorial intelligence and emotional wallop."
– George Pendle