Dear members and friends,
Before I describe a recent amazing week, I want to say a word about our neighbors, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) and the Museum of Biblical Art (MoBIA): these two museums are within a few short blocks of the American Folk Art Museum, and we are pleased to participate in a cultural corridor that is establishing itself in one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods. Our missions and exhibition content share traditions and themes, and visiting these museums can only enhance and enrich your experience. You will hear more from us on this subject over the next few months. But now, I am eager to share news of a very exciting week.
Tuesday morning, May 6, at the MTA subway station on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, an American treasure embarked on its seven-stop national tour in the exhibition Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Titled Subway Riders, this 1950 masterpiece by artist Ralph Fasanella was on view at the station for more than two decades, and it is now on view in our galleries at 2 Lincoln Square, an outcome which would not have been possible were it not for our wonderful colleagues at Arts for Transit and Urban Design. We thank Sandra Bloodworth, Director; Amy Hausman, Deputy Director; and Katherine Meehan, Manager, for their enthusiastic support of our project and for their careful attention to sending the painting on its way. Irwin Warren, husband of Museum trustee Liz Warren, provided sage legal advice for which we are also grateful. If you’d like to know more, read the New York Times article that covered the event.
The festivities, however, began later that week at the opening of the Outsider Art Fair on Thursday, May 8. There, on the rooftop of Center 548, the Museum presented its annual Visionary Award, sponsored by Museum trustee Audrey Heckler, to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, for their 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980. This seminal exhibition took a giant step forward and advanced art history by focusing on Southern African American artists who had been largely overlooked by other museums. Generations of scholars, artists, museum visitors, and students continue to benefit from the wisdom of this exhibition. We were very happy that Peggy Loar, Acting Director at the Corcoran Gallery, attended the ceremony and delivered formal remarks; Corcoran trustee Henry Thaggert joined her. Dr. Regenia A. Perry, the first African American woman to receive a PhD in art history, and whose catalog essay shed light on the artistic roots of many self-taught figures including Ulysses Davis, Elijah Pierce, and Nellie Mae Rowe, also delivered an address. We recalled with respect and fondness Dr. Peter C. Marzio, whose leadership inspired the exhibition, and we made note of curators Jane Livingston and John Beardsley, who sadly were unable to attend.
It was good to see many of the Museum’s friends, colleagues, and supporters at the Fair, where, on Saturday afternoon, the annual Anne Hill Blanchard symposium took place. Dr. Valérie Rousseau, Curator, Art of the Self-Taught and Art Brut, at the Museum led a revelatory panel discussion on the art of Henry Darger with panelists Michael Bonesteel, James Brett, Jim Elledge, and Jane Kallir. That evening, the Museum’s young patrons, called the Young Folk, held a celebratory after-party.
On Saturday evening, May 10, it was my pleasure to welcome patrons and donors to the Museum for a special preview opening of Self-Taught Genius. Margaret Boles Fitzgerald, Chairman of the Board of the Henry Luce Foundation, gave formal remarks at this event; joining her in attendance was Ellen Holtzman, the Foundation’s Program Director for American Art. It seems that the American Folk Art Museum and the Henry Luce Foundation have come full circle: the Foundation funded the Museum’s first exhibition and has now made our current exhibition possible with a national tour to no fewer than six museums across the country: Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa; Mingei International Museum in San Diego; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, in Fort Worth, Texas; New Orleans Museum of Art; Saint Louis Museum of Art; and the Tampa Museum of Art.
Monday, May 12, a full-day symposium on topics related to Self-Taught Genius took place and included an enlightening keynote address by writer Adam Gopnik, and Museum members were treated to the first viewing of the exhibition that evening. Dr. Michael Gilligan, President of the Henry Luce Foundation, attended the reception and spoke about his personal experiences with art by the self-taught.
But I have saved the best for last: the art on view in Self-Taught Genius is unparalleled. Over the course of its fifty-plus year history, American Folk Art Museum patrons and donors have amassed a collection that is unrivalled in scope and breadth. A couple of my personal favorites are Flag Gate, an actual painted wooden gate by an unidentified artist that was found on a farm, dating to c. 1876, the year that Colorado achieved statehood; and a signature work by Ammi Phillips, the masterpiece Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog (1830–1835). One of the newest works to enter the collection is one of sixty-seven known versions of Edward Hicks’s The Peaceable Kingdom, which the artist gave to his daughter as a wedding gift. I could easily list for you here all my favorites; there are more than one hundred other must-see works. Why not browse the website dedicated to the exhibition, or, even better: plan your visit soon.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice
Image: Subway Riders (detail), Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997), New York City, 1950, oil on canvas, 28 x 60″, American Folk Art Museum, gift of Eve and Ralph Fasanella, 1995.8.1, courtesy MTA Arts & Design.