Dear members and friends,
January brings a fresh infusion of energy and ambition for the new year, and we are experiencing that at the American Folk Art Museum! We were so pleased to be the cosponsor of A Fisherman’s Dream: Folk Art by Mario Sanchez at the South Street Seaport Museum. There, we joined New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin; our great partner, Susan Henshaw Jones, the Director of the South Street Seaport Museum and Museum of the City of New York; and so many others (more than 800 in fact) in celebration of the triumphant reopening of the South Street Seaport Museum. Our wonderful exhibition Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions, called “a trip to visual heaven” by New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, remains on view through March 31, 2013.
More good news: Dr. Valérie Rousseau, a scholar who has worked most recently as an independent curator, has joined the staff of the American Folk Art Museum. Born in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli (Québec), Canada, Rousseau has conducted several studies and projects in the art field, both in North America and abroad, in collaboration with many organizations and museums. Please join us in welcoming her as the Curator of 20th-Century and Contemporary Art; she begins her work with the Museum (officially) on February 14.
Following on the heels of the jubilant evening at the Seaport Museum, we celebrated the opening of Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed and Women’s Studies at the Museum on January 22. Feasting on artisanal, hand-crafted breads and cheeses (works of art in themselves made by Nina and Jonathan White), we welcomed colleagues from the Fenimore Art Museum, the organizer of the Prior exhibition, and our own treasured members and friends.
Prior’s portraits become all the more poignant with the knowledge that these were probably the only reminders of family members and friends in the years before photography. They invite so much curiosity. Prior, like other painters, introduced props and objects that provide information we hunger for: a favorite toy, a cherished book. The realization that the people in Prior’s portraits so strongly resemble people we know—or even ourselves—can be astonishing. But isn’t that the purpose of visiting a museum: to be amazed, to be surprised, to really open your eyes?
More surprises can be found in Women’s Studies. Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s photographs of his wife, Marie, provide perhaps the starkest contrast to Prior’s portraits.
What do they say about the collective culture of their times, and ours? Chief Curator Stacy C. Hollander gives us a view of women “from both sides now,” literally: on opposite walls of one gallery. The Von Bruenchenhein photographs, which make voyeurs of all who view them, are accompanied by the “Sleeping Beauties” of Paul D. Humphrey. Across from these works are drawings by Nellie Mae Rowe and Inez Nathaniel Walker, colorful and often exuberant portraits with secrets of their own. The questions posed in these pictures relate to gender, identity, and self-identity. The female faces in Women’s Studies colorfully and powerfully contrast the Prior portraits. Seen together, the exhibitions provide provocative and rewarding perspectives on identity, portraiture, and art. We hope you’ll stop by soon.
With my best wishes for the year ahead,
The Honorable Anne-Imelda Radice, PhD
Image: Photo by Gavin Ashworth.