Dear members and friends,
Works of staggering ambition.
These are just a few words that have been mentioned in regard to Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. I am pleased that the exhibition is drawing audiences from around the world and visitors are seeing the Museum’s extraordinary collection for themselves. Many people are just beginning to learn about the expressive power of artworks by people who are self-taught; and many return again and again because, simply put, there is so much to see. The territory explored in this exhibition is new and fresh; and in a field where it is always challenging to say what has not yet been said, the themes and ideas conveyed in our galleries will be revelatory to art lovers, history buffs, and culture enthusiasts. Education in America is something many of us take for granted, and it is fascinating to consider a time when few people had access to institutional learning and many had to rely on themselves to make meaning and, so often, to make a living. These citizens—our American forebears—left behind a visual legacy that serves as the foundation of the art world we experience today. The exhibition will open your eyes; I hope you plan to see it soon.
Also eye-opening is the exhibition currently on view at MoBIA, the Museum of Biblical Art, just down the street. The works of art in Back To Eden: Contemporary Artists Wander the Garden raise many questions about “paradise,” both spiritual and practical. The title of the exhibition suggests the idea of an idyllic and ever-flowering haven, but in the modern, industrialized world, where do people find respite and refuge? The artists whose works are on view take very divergent paths, leading visitors on an exploration of timeless metaphysical realms and timely real-world concerns. I urge you to visit.
It was a special pleasure to welcome Lincoln Center’s Young Patrons who mingled with our Young Folk and were treated to a curator-led tour with Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions. Young Folk is already a success story: this group of the Museum’s newest supporters launched in April, and they are increasing in numbers daily. Also, we have been regularly hosting alumni groups and other friends; please do let us know if you would like to arrange a special event or group visit.
Speaking of introductions, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a dedicated friend of the Museum and the newest member of the Board of Trustees, whom I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago, when I first began my work here. Peter Rapaport, whose background in finance and management rendered him eminently qualified to serve as Chairman of the Board of the Greater New York region of the American Red Cross as well as other board positions for social service organizations, has been, with his wife Elisa, a long-time supporter of the American Folk Art Museum. When we met at the Gala two years ago, Peter mentioned his interest in helping the Museum strengthen its resources at that particular time in its history. I am especially pleased to announce the creation of a new staff position, the Rapaport Archivist at the American Folk Art Museum, which is made possible by a gift from Peter and Elisa, to whom we express our gratitude. The Board of Trustees of the Museum, the staff, and I are looking forward to working with Peter; and the Rapaports inform me that they are looking forward to learning even more about art by the self-taught! It is always a privilege to work with people who, like Peter and Elisa, are sincerely committed to helping to build the Museum’s future.
On that note, I also want to send a shout out to Jonathan and Karen Fielding and acknowledge their many contributions. Karen Fielding serves on the Board of Trustees at the American Folk Art Museum and she has been tireless in her support and generous with her time. Works of art from the Fieldings’ collection are now on view at the Williams College Museum of Art in an exhibition titled Material Friction: Americana and American Art. The exhibition also includes works from the Williams College Museum and tells stories about early life in America.
A few dates to keep in mind: a rare opportunity to meet one of the artists whose works are in the Museum’s collection will take place on Tuesday, July 29. Sharon Begley, author and Senior Health & Science Correspondent at Reuters, will moderate “Perspectives on the Work and Thoughts of George Widener,” a dialogue among artist George Widener, Dr. Valérie Rousseau, Curator, Art of the Self-Taught and Art Brut, and Dr. Joy Hirsch, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobiology, Yale School of Medicine, to discuss the scientific and artistic aspects of Widener’s creations. Widener is an artist represented in Self-Taught Genius. His works on view depict the ill-fated cruise ship Titanic and data related to its tragic voyage; however the imagery appears to be encoded. Widener has said that he envisions “a very dramatic technological future,” in which intelligent machines will be able to “read the subtleties of [his] artworks” and then fully achieve his ambitions for a more “holistic kind of environment.” I hope you will be able to attend.
And the Museum’s annual Gala will take place on Thursday, October 23rd. We hope you will save the date.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice
Image: Peter and Elisa Rapaport.