Works Are in Permanent Collection of American Folk Art Museum
(New York, NY, October 1, 2018) Roadside Attraction, an exhibition of marvels, oddities, and curiosities that captures the American fascination with the open road will open on October 15, 2018, at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City, Queens. The exhibition will run through January 3, 2019. Drawn from the permanent collection of the American Folk Art Museum, Roadside Attraction features trade signs, decorative art objects, miniatures, and gigantics, alongside artworks illustrating the paranormal, fantastic, and carnivalesque. The works on view, spanning the eighteenth through the late-twentieth centuries, highlight ways that improved roadways, innovations in transportation, and technological growth, which precipitated a flurry of art and entrepreneurship as taverns, inns, and alternative cultural sites burgeoned along American highways and backroad byways. Attended by a democratization of leisure time, artists and business owners alike took advantage of travel culture to create outlandish attractions and otherworldly built environments that fulfilled their creative visions and confounded, amazed, and entertained passersby. Roadside Attraction pays homage to this American phenomenon, evoking the spirit of enchantment that was cultivated by visionaries working off the beaten path.
“The invention of the automobile and the increase in leisure time meant that curiosity seekers could hit the open road, where they were gifted with amusement parks, quirky museums, offbeat landmarks, and fantastical, vernacular environments,” says Jason T. Busch, director of the American Folk Art Museum. “With Roadside Attraction, we show some of the strange and mysterious objects that artists and entrepreneurs created to confound and entertain passersby.”
“People have long been drawn to strange and mysterious objects,” says Sarah Margolis-Pineo, curator of the exhibition. “In the sixteenth century, there were cabinets of curiosities, or Wunderkammer, in which religious relics, natural marvels, and meticulously crafted works of art were exhibited. These cabinets of curiosities were the precursors to today’s museums. They drew from science and superstition to inspire wonder and delight.”
Highlighting works created within artist-built environments by Calvin and Ruby Black (Calvin 1903–1972, Ruby 1915–1980, Yermo, CA), Howard Finster (1916–2001, Summerville, GA), Matteo Radoslovich (c. 1947–1972, West New York, NJ), Mary T. Smith (1904–1995, Hazelhurst, MI), and Clarence and Grace Woolsey (Clarence, 1929–1987, Grace, ?–1992, Lincoln, IA), among others, the exhibition examines the relationship between curiosity and entertainment, illuminating the ways that they interweave to make space for extraordinary ideas and other worlds. These objects bring a touch of magic to the mundane, breaking the monotony of the open road. Similarly, Roadside Attraction is a place of respite and a space for speculation, conjuring questions about the ways in which we understand our world. Roadside Attraction highlights the potential for change—the human capacity to see curiosity and wonder within the everyday.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
- A selection of wind toys and sculptures by Matteo Radoslovich, who created a yard-art installation made of wood scraps, glass jars, metal cans, and other sundry cast-offs in his West New York, NJ, backyard
- Nineteenth-century oversized trade signs in the shape of a tooth, binoculars, a pocket watch, and a coffee pot—roadside markers that took the form of the service that they advertised
- Workers’ Holiday—Coney Island (1965), a monumental painting by noted New York artist Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997)
- Assemblage sculpture by noted Alabama-based artist and musician Lonnie Holley (b. 1950), who transformed his yard and an adjacent abandoned lot into an immersive sculptural environment that was celebrated by visitors from around the world
- A selection of sculptures from Possum Trot, an immersive art/environment and roadside attraction created in California’s Mojave Desert by Calvin and Ruby Black, where dolls were positioned in tableaus and animated by music and song
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About the Self-Taught Genius Gallery
The American Folk Art Museum, the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad, opened the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in September 2017. It is a space devoted solely to exhibiting works from the museum’s permanent collection of more than eight thousand works of art. Major support for the gallery is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. Significant support is also provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Admission to the gallery is free. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 5 pm. The address is 47-29 32nd Place, Long Island City, Queens—two and a half blocks from the 33 St. stop on the 7 subway.