New York City as Mecca for Self-Taught Artists
(New York, NY, February 20, 2019) New York Experienced, an exhibition of works made in and around New York City by self-taught artists, opened on February 19, 2019, at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City, Queens. New York Experienced is a companion exhibition to Made in New York City: The Business of Folk Art, a show that will debut on March 19 at the American Folk Art Museum’s main location at 2 Lincoln Square in Manhattan. Both exhibitions celebrate New York’s unique place in American life: Made in New York City demonstrates, through folk art, how the city became a major commercial and financial center, whereas New York Experienced explores how self-taught artists translate their experiences living in New York into their work. Forty-one works by self-taught artists, all part of the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, are displayed in New York Experienced. The exhibition, curated by assistant curator Steffi Ibis Duarte, will run through May 30, 2019.
“New York Experienced is an exhibition that crystallizes the importance of self-taught artists in forging New York’s reputation as an art capital,” says Jason T. Busch, director of the American Folk Art Museum. “The artworks on view explore the lives, experiences, and imaginings of self-taught artists, engaging the evolving conditions of social and cultural life in New York City.”
New York Experienced takes as it touchstone a quote from author E. B. White, who wrote in his book Here Is New York (1949), “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.” White called New York “The Capital of Everything,” and he credited the city’s distinctive magic to the large, diverse, and enterprising population that lives here. The link between this bold New York spirit and self-actualized art making is what New York Experienced is about.
“New York’s key demographics are its extraordinary density and its diversity. Many of the works in New York Experienced were made by immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island, or, more recently, from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia,” says curator Duarte. “The artworks reflect daily life in and around the city from recognizable cityscapes and private domestic scenes to abstract works that reveal interior lives through the act of creating.”
For example, the paintings of Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997) detail the struggles and joys of being a working class New Yorker. Gregorio Marzán (1906–1997) turned his experience as a doll and toy maker to configuring sculptures using repurposed materials of his trade: glue, glitter, plastic, and wigs. Malcah Zeldis (b. 1931) and Victor Joseph Gatto (1893–1965) drew on their personal histories for inspiration: Zeldis captured vibrant scenes of beloved but now gone New York City sites such as Roseland Ballroom and Tells Bakery; Gatto, a former lightweight boxer, recalled a bout between Jack Dempsey and Luis Ángel Firpo at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. What these and the other artists shown in New York Experienced share is a geographic home in New York and a powerful impulse to create, but each artistic expression is uniquely their own.
New York Experienced, along with the companion exhibition Made in New York City: The Business of Folk Art, are offered as part of the celebration for the American Folk Art Museum’s 30th anniversary of its main location at 2 Lincoln Square. The year-long 30th anniversary is being observed with special exhibitions, programs, and publications from the museum.
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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 in Long Island City, Queens, devoted solely to exhibiting works from the museum’s more than 8,000-piece permanent collection. 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 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The address is 47-29 32nd Place, Long Island City, two and a half blocks from the 33 St. stop on the 7 local subway.