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29 Jul 2019

Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler to Open September 17

(New York, NY, July 29, 2019) The exhibition Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler will open at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) (2 Lincoln Sq., Columbus Ave. at W. 65th St.) on September 17, 2019.  Heckler’s collection encapsulates the growth of the field of self-taught art. There are key selections of European art brut, including works by Aloïse Corbaz, August Klett, Augustin Lesage, and Anna Zemánková; works by African American artists such as Thornton Dial, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Mose Tolliver; American classics by Henry Darger, Emery Blagdon, William Edmondson, and James Castle; and twenty-first century discoveries from around the world by artists such as Guo Fengyi and Christine Sefolosha. The presentation, which will close on January 26, 2020, includes more than one hundred sixty artworks by more than eighty artists. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Valérie Rousseau, AFAM’s senior curator and curator of self-taught art & art brut.

“The American Folk Art Museum is immensely grateful to Audrey B. Heckler for sharing her extraordinary collection of self-taught art with our audiences,” said Jason T. Busch, director of AFAM. “Mrs. Heckler has created a collection that is diverse, international in scope, and reflective of her boundless curiosity about what is created outside the art mainstream. The artworks expand our knowledge of visual expression.”

“Audrey B. Heckler’s collection pays homage to the best qualities of self-taught artists: the nuances of their vocabulary, the sophistication of their lines, the intricacy of their projects, their colorist skills, and the inventiveness of their techniques,” says Dr. Rousseau. “The perspective of the exhibition is centered on an individual approach to each work and its creator. The viewer is invited to consider these works as memory palaces – also known as the “method of loci” – visualizations used to organize and recall stores of information in an ever-expanding mental landscape. This presentation stands as a laboratory for the mind and soul, a humanistic co-existence of life trajectories and singularities, filled with non-linear and complex stories. The idiosyncratic works on view initiate a reflection on our rapport with otherness, the necessity of alternate narratives in societies geared towards normality, and the pressing reconfiguration of the visual art landscape.”

Sections of Memory Palaces will evoke the immersive environment and exuberant visual “cabinet of curiosities” that Heckler created for herself over the years, paired with primary and secondary sources (artist statements, oral histories, interviews, and museum archives.) Other sections will take the form of case studies, “with a focus on the visual grammar of specific works, their technical ingenuity, and their materiality,” explains Dr. Rousseau.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Angel by William Edmondson (1874─1951). This sculpture from 1937 is made from the local limestone in Tennessee, where Edmonson worked creating grave markers and garden sculptures. It is informed by the imagery in Nashville’s African-American cemeteries, with references both to the Bible and African-inflected burial customs.

Untitled by Martín Ramírez (1895─1963). A gouache, graphite, and black pencil work on paper from 1960 to 1963, this work ostensibly shows a large sailing ship either floating atop a roiling sea or grounded on a beach littered with seaweed. It has Ramírez’s intricate linear patterning, repetitive subject and composition, and odd variations in scale.

Untitled by Aloïse Corbaz (1886─1964). This colored pencil and sewn paper cutouts on paper work is from 1953. It evokes Corbaz’s unrequited passion for her former employer, Emperor William II, with its two main figures in an embrace, as well as a collage commentary about American politicians from an earlier era. The work’s subtitle, l’Amérique Stubborn Président, reflects Corbaz’s interest in history and politics that runs through much of her work.

Untitled by Scottie Wilson (1888─1972). A pen, ink, and gold crayon on paper work from 1949, this work celebrates irregularity and metamorphosis, enjoining the viewer to follow a happy game of shape-shifting.

Composition Symbolique by Augustin Lesage (1876─1954). A work in oil and graphite on canvas from 1928, this depicts an intricate structure as a majestic building, with skillfully drawn interiors meticulously and densely composed of architectural motifs, portals, floors, columns, and friezes. The subjects represented in its isolated alcoves are the Virgin and Child and Zeus.

Untitled by Anna Zemánková (1908─1986). An undated work of crayon, pastel, and gouache on paper, this work shows both a folk art floral motif and the spiritual and spiritualist traditions of Moravia, where the artist was raised. It is both sensually half-abstract, half-figurative, and completely different from the “official” socialist realism of the Czech Republic at the time.


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Exhibition credits

This exhibition is supported in part by the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Ford Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Council for Self-Taught Art.


About the American Folk Art Museum

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of historic folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad.  The museum preserves, conserves, and interprets a comprehensive collection of the highest quality, with objects dating from the eighteenth century to the present.