Dear members and friends,
National in scope, representing artists from all corners of the country, and documenting events and narratives from the nation’s earliest years through its evolution over three centuries, the American Folk Art Museum is an essential asset among the country’s museums—a one of a kind. I have been traveling, following the progress of the groundbreaking, touring exhibition Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. I have been meeting with friends, supporters, collectors, and others who recognize the vital contributions of artists who discover their creative potential along nonacademic paths. It is clear that the American Folk Art Museum is manifesting its mission. The Museum has good friends all over the country and, in fact, all over the world.
And now we have new friends in Long Island City, where we held our first public event at the new research, study, and collection center. Last week’s Block Party, which drew a great crowd (more than 350 guests), was absolutely fantastic. Borough President Melinda Katz welcomed the Museum and shared her enthusiasm for arts initiatives with our guests; City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer seconded her great cheer and got the evening off to an upbeat start. I am so grateful to these two dynamic leaders and I look forward to continued alliances with the borough. I also want to send a special thanks to our sponsor, Suri Bieler of Eclectic Encore Props, who lent precious real estate to the festival and welcomed visitors to tour her historic collection. Click here to learn more about Eclectic props and discover why we feel we are truly situated in the heart of a rich and vibrant cultural hub.
And there was more: renowned former Crystals singer La La Brooks blew everyone away with her delivery of such classics as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.” Her smile and energy were completely infectious—and for almost an hour there were impromptu dancing and much festivity. I send my heartfelt gratitude to La La and look forward to working together again.
What made the evening even more special, however, was that visitors had the chance to tour our new study center, where outstanding works of art were on view, to give everyone a taste of what the American Folk Art Museum is all about.
More good news:
When the Curtain Never Comes Down continues to draw critical acclaim from numerous sources. The exhibition closes on July 5, and we are encouraging last-chance visits. Amazingly, the artist Lonnie Holley, whose work is featured in the exhibition, performed live in a rare and personal setting in the Museum’s galleries on May 20, to a sold-out crowd. Holley is a skilled musician, as dynamic and spontaneous in his approach to song as he is in his visual artmaking. A truly inspiring moment occurred when four US Marines were viewing the exhibition and Holley began singing an homage to the country’s military and those who serve. We are so proud to participate in Blue Star Museums, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts.
When the Curtain Never Comes Down is now documented in an illustrated publication, which is now available online and in the Museum Shop. The book features scholarly essays by some of the most knowledgeable people working in the field of art brut today. Dr. Valérie Rousseau introduces the text with an incisive essay.
The Museum held its annual Visionary Award ceremony on May 21 at the Museum of Biblical Art. (I thank my colleague, Richard Townsend, for his hospitality.) Ruth DeYoung Kohler was awarded the 2015 Visionary Award for her leadership in the promotion and conservation of large-scale art environments by self-taught artists—which has lasted more than four decades. Museum trustee and chair of the program Audrey B. Heckler presented the award to Ms. Kohler on behalf of the Museum. You can learn more about the innovative John Michael Kohler Arts Center here. It was an honor to welcome Ms. Kohler and her distinguished colleagues, and the evening was a fitting salute to a woman who has steadfastly charted new paths in the visual and performing arts.
Speaking of honors: I am especially pleased to share a very special announcement in tribute to American Folk Art Museum Deputy Director Elizabeth Kingman, who has served the Museum diligently and valiantly for nearly a decade. Elizabeth has been selected from thousands of people who work at museums all over the world to participate in the Getty Leadership Institute Executive Education Program for Museum Leaders. This celebrated and intensive seminar is aimed at helping experienced art museum executives including CEOs, directors, COOs, and senior-level executives become better leaders to strengthen their institutions’ capabilities. On behalf of the board of trustees and the staff, I congratulate her. I look forward to all that she will share with us as a result of her participation.
The Museum continually seeks to better serve our audiences, and among our new initiatives is the creation of a new position: Manager of Visitor Experience. Mr. Zachary Cochran is now ably filling this role, and I hope you will introduce yourself to him when you next visit. Mr. Cochran reports to Stefanie Levinson, Director of Retail and Visitor Services.
A handsome and informative documentation of Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts, the spectacular 2011, one-week-only exhibition, will soon be available (published by Skira/Rizzoli in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2015). The illustrated publication, with essays by trustee and former curator Elizabeth V. Warren and independent quilt expert Maggi Gordon, will be in the Museum Shop early in the fall—and you can pre-order the book now.
Folk Art and American Modernism, on view from July 18 to September 27, 2015, will reveal how portraits, paintings, sculptures, hooked rugs, and decoys made by American folk artists became influential to the formation of the new modernist art of the 1920s and 1930s, and at the same time created a new folk art market and field of discourse. Some eighty works will be on view, grouped by important modernists of the era, that reveal the relevance of folk art and its impact on a new and seismic movement in Western art. Deputy Director and Chief Curator Stacy C. Hollander has amplified the exhibition, which was organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, with stellar works from celebrated collections.
Last but not least, a new generation of those who cherish art by the self-taught is taking shape in the form of the Museum’s Teen Docent Program. This past May, the 2014–2015 class of teen leaders graduated from the yearlong program in an afternoon event with their families, peers, school liaisons, and members of the Museum’s Education Committee. The students led tours of When the Curtain Never Comes Down, demonstrating their understanding of the works of art on view and their dedication to sharing the benefits of learning through art with others. We look forward to working with program graduates in the coming months.
It is such an exciting moment for the Museum, and we hope you will be part of it.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice
Image: La La Brooks at the American Folk Art Museum Block Party, 2015.