Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, Executive Director, is pleased to announce staff changes at the Museum that will greatly enhance its ability to move forward and forge new pathways in traditional folk art and art by the self-taught. Effective immediately, Stacy C. Hollander, Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions, adds Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs to her title and portfolio of responsibilities; and Elizabeth Kingman, Director of Development, becomes Deputy Director for Administration and Development. “These able and deserving ambassadors for the Museum have made significant contributions to operations throughout the past decade (and more),” commented Dr. Radice, “and it is a pleasure to introduce them to you. We hope you will take time to learn about our wonderful colleagues in these interviews, conducted over the past few days. And do seek them out at an opening reception or other special event. They will be happy to spend time with you discussing the Museum and its offerings.”
INTERVIEW WITH STACY C. HOLLANDER
Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions
How did you become interested in folk art?
I became interested in folk art in the mid-1980s, when I was accepted into the master’s degree program that the American Folk Art Museum had launched with New York University. I had always drawn and painted, and I was interested in art history and antiques, so the program in folk art studies was attractive on many levels. As I was to learn very quickly, the field offered so much more and I fell in love with the art and also with the research to an extent I had not anticipated. In addition to the refreshing candor and freedom of the art itself, there was an openness in the academic side of the field that was very appealing to me. Also appealing was the certitude of art that resisted being defined by others yet offered so much room for original research and original thinking. As part of the program, I did several internships in the museum’s curatorial department, and never looked back.
What is the most alluring aspect of folk art, in your view? Why is it so compelling?
Self-taught art literally encodes the individual experience of being human. It represents a dynamic creative act and there is no clock on that urge. Today’s artists could not possibly be the same as the artmakers of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries because life has changed and the art and artists with it. And it is the natural evolution of the United States and its citizens over time that gives form and content to this art that continues to emerge and thrive outside the canon of art historical orthodoxy. The art is relevant, personal, and touches us today both through its earliest expressions, and the ways in which the artists keep surprising us with their thinking, their inventiveness, and their originality. I think it is such qualities of intimacy and meaning that have ensured the growing attention the field is garnering, especially in an age where human contact, relating on a person-to-person basis, is diminished.
The American Folk Art Museum has always taken an art-world view of self-taught art. The stance is rooted in the idea that this is not art of the past to simply marvel at, that “folk art” started at this time and ended at that, but that it is an ever-changing response to the world by unique individuals, and there is no time limit on that kind of self-motivated creativity. In fact, we are the only folk art museum with a curatorial position dedicated to the art’s most current expressions.
How has the field changed over the years?
Ideas about folk art have changed dramatically over the years that I have been with the museum. I like to think that the American Folk Art Museum has much to do with that and that I have had some share in contributing to that maturing narrative. Many people do not realize that the Museum has been around for fifty years, approaching topics and artists who were not even on the radar in the field at large. As the only urban folk art museum, we have a certain obligation to consider our art within a larger framework, and that actually encourages a mental dexterity that has resulted in interesting installations, a recontextualization of art and artists, juxtapositions of material, and new discoveries. Amazingly, our collection has been formed almost entirely through gifts, and I believe that it is this embracing and flexible view, as well as our situation in the cultural center of New York, that has continued to attract major donations.
Is there really a difference between folk art and all other art?
I have had the benefit of a long perspective and a body of knowledge that allows me to see connections in self-taught art over the centuries, and also the paths the art negotiates with other artmaking streams. For some years we have been exploring the dialogue that has always existed between the work of self-taught and academically trained artists. One such exhibition that was a dream of mine for years brought together portraits by the nineteenth century artist Ammi Phillips, whose work I had always seen as sublime color and gestural abstractions, and the modern master Mark Rothko, whose paintings I have loved since I was a child. Another favorite exhibition revolved around a piece in the collection that I hold very dear, the Phrenological Head attributed to Asa Ames. There had never been a museum exhibition devoted to the fascinating portrait busts sculpted by this little known upstate New York artist. I was able to identify subjects and family histories, and to also reposition the work within the larger context of Renaissance sculpture traditions. A career thrill was the discovery, through correspondence with a descendant of the Ames family, of the existence of a remarkable daguerreotype of the artist himself seemingly carving a self-portrait. Phenomenal.
What are your goals as you begin your next chapter with the Museum?
There are so many ideas that are provoked by the art, and as a curator, I have the joy of being able to pursue those ideas, roll them around in my mind, and ponder and dream. And for me this is a creative act, making and saying something new and beautiful that I can share. And I hope that I am making connections that others can see and understand, that I am helping visitors to discover beauty and significance where they may not have found it before. We have contributed some game-changing moments, such as the phenomenal installation of 651 red and white quilts at the Park Avenue Armory that transcended all boundaries between conventional ideas about art, design, quilts, folk art. We were the first New York museum to present groundbreaking exhibitions of artists such as Henry Darger and Martín Ramiréz. Under Anne Radice’s leadership there is a revitalized recognition of the importance of bringing our collections and curatorial visions to museums around the country and around the world. We have already been presenting exhibitions in alternative locations, such as the critically acclaimed exhibition Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions at the South Street Seaport Museum, and we will continue to expand our reach through traveling exhibitions, such as the upcoming Self-Taught Genius, whichintroduces an original premise we hope will change the way we speak about this art. Through ambitious exhibitions, educational programs, scholarship, and technology, we know we will engage new audiences who have yet to discover the power of this artistic legacy.
INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH KINGMAN
Elizabeth Kingman, Deputy Director for Administration and Development
What led you to pursue a career in museum administration and, more pointedly, with the American Folk Art Museum?
As a lifelong New Yorker, I feel a great sense of pride for this city’s museums, which provide access to culture and creative inspiration for every visitor and resident. I am honored to be a part of the team at the American Folk Art Museum.
My background is in math rather than in art. My undergraduate degree was in math and economics, in an honors program at Northwestern University, and I have a Master of Public Administration from the Wagner School at New York University, specializing in financial management for non-profits. As an art enthusiast but not an art expert, I have found a great connection to the personal expressions conveyed through folk art and art by the self-taught. The works that we show bring to life the world of each artist. Every viewer has a personal response to every artwork, and views it through the realm of his or her own experiences. Each exhibition that the museum presents has a distinct point of view, and with each one, I learn about a different aspect of the importance of this work.
What are your goals for the Museum moving forward?
I came on board as membership manager seven years ago and was very impressed by the dedication of our members. From those who have just joined to those who have been members over four decades, our members have such a strong love for this material, and are always eager to learn more and to share their knowledge. I am energized by this enthusiasm. The dues from our member base, which is nationwide, support the Museum’s initiatives: to maintain and build a world-class collection of traditional folk art and works by self-taught artists, to provide innovative educational programs, and to create stellar exhibitions at Lincoln Square and around the country.
My goals are to galvanize constituents old and new, continue to create opportunities for Museum audiences, open new “touch-points” so more people can connect with us, and attract new art lovers. I know firsthand that it is our audience of friends, members, and donors that allows this Museum to thrive.
How do people get involved with the Museum—specifically those who love art, folk art, and art by the self-taught?
This year I have worked closely with Trustees and volunteers to help build several groups to deepen and expand our base of supporters, such as the Council for Traditional Folk Art and the Council for the Advancement of Art Brut and the Self-Taught. I am especially proud to have been part of the formation of the new young supporters group, Young Folk. Chaired by Abigail Stone and Maria Fillas, and set to officially launch in March, Young Folk has a bold mission to engage folk art enthusiasts in their twenties and thirties, and to create new devotees for this material through innovative and creative events, programs, and materials.
In the past year, many of the important projects undertaken by the Museum, such as the digitization of Folk Art magazine, new digital signage at the Museum, several of our educational programs, and the creation of the beautiful Folk Couture catalog, among others, have been made possible by a dedicated individual or foundation. This is enormously gratifying. I look forward to continuing to get to know the interests of many of our current donors as well as those who may be new to the Museum. I look forward to working together to learn what specific projects most interest each of you.
How does the Museum attract new audiences?
The Museum had record attendance last year, with over 100,000 visitors in 2013. We instituted a program of surveys to learn more about our audiences, and found that one of the top factors driving visitors was the recommendation from a friend. Other ways we reach new audiences include partnerships with other organizations, institutions, and fairs, such as the Metro Show, the Outsider Art Fair, the Affordable Art Fair, the Armory Show, the National Executive Services Corps, Blue Engine, Damsels in Design, and Lincoln Center’s Young Patrons, who will visit the Museum for a special event this spring.
One important event each year is the Museum’s annual fall benefit gala. This scintillating event introduces so many to the Museum because it brings together all of the various groups involved with the Museum, and their friends. The Gala involves our newest supporters as well as our long-time devotees, fine art enthusiasts and those who want to learn more about art, traditional folk art collectors, and collectors of art of the self-taught—and, it’s always a fun evening!
How do you pull off so many events throughout the year, and how do they help the Museum?
I really enjoy the tremendous input of others and the energy that so many people bring to an endeavor like the Gala. It was an honor to work closely with last year’s co-chairs, Yaz Hernández and Board Chairman Laura Parsons, and committee members Liz Warren, Monty Blanchard, Lucy Danziger, and Patricia Mears, to put together a wonderful evening. Together with host Tim Gunn, honorees Dr. Valerie Steele and Lucy Sykes, and honorary Chair Betsy Bloomingdale, we organized an event that raised nearly half a million dollars for the Museum’s education programs. (By the way: we are currently beginning plans for next year’s gala. Please contact me if you are interested in joining the planning committee with a pledge to fill a table.) The Young Folk are others who are passionate about what we are all trying to accomplish at the Museum. The results are astonishing.
Anything you’d like to share with those reading this interview?
We continue to build the Museum’s reach and to be in close contact with our constituents through digital communications. The Museum regularly promotes the collection, exhibitions, reviews, programs, fund-raisers, and interesting items about artists or objects in the collection through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter,Tumblr, and Pinterest. Please keep in touch and share or follow us on social media! I look forward to seeing you at the Museum in the coming year.
Image: Deputy Directors Stacy C. Hollander and Elizabeth Kingman.