Review — Outliers and American Vanguard Art

Outliers and American Vanguard Art, by Lynne Cooke. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 412 pages, 450 color plates, 2018. ISBN: 978-0226522272. Hardcover, $65

Outliers and American Vanguard ArtOutliers and American Vanguard Art, filling several rooms at the National Gallery of Art, is a dauntingly large-scale show. And at five pounds, 412 pages, 450-plus illustrations and a 10 x12 form factor, its catalog is even more daunting. But, despite some excess imbrications and fixed subject positions, the art and the important points being made are plenty sufficient to interest non-academic readers.

Curator Lynne Cooke’s core premise is that the story of modernism is woefully incomplete absent the art of the self-taught. Her exhibit places the work of trained and untrained artists side by side to tell a pointedly joint story — and because the pieces of art have something to say to each other. Continue reading

Review — Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Mythologies

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Mythologies, by Karen Patterson. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, 248 pages, 265 color images, 2017. ISBN: 978-0998681702. Hardcover, $65

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Not everyone loves Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s art, and, among those who do, not always equally. Some favor the paintings. Some like the photos of his wife but not the paintings so much. Others prefer the sculpture, maybe the chicken bones better, or perhaps the ceramics.

When I discovered Von Bruenchenhein, I thought the bone towers were an interesting sideline, the photos and ceramics charming, but the paintings the core achievement. Now, 30 years and a 2017 John Michael Kohler Art Center exhibit and catalog later, it seems clear that the paintings were just part of the story — the part for which Eugene himself may have most desperately wanted recognition, but neither the core of his creative achievement nor of his self-created world. Continue reading

Some Really OK New Wacky Store Names

Another batch of the strange, the bizarre, the inexplicable wacky store names of the world.

Wacky store names: Nice Pharmacy, Koh Samui, Thailand

Wacky store names: Favorable Chicken - Kebabs - Ribs, London, England

As someone pathologically prone to understatement, I’m especially fond of business names that don’t try too hard. Do eat some OK paella before buying a simply basic but typical gift.

  • Do Eat Korean Barbecue, Chicago
  • Favorable Chicken-Kebabs-Ribs, London: Photo by Martin Stocks
  • Nice Pharmacy, Koh Samui, Thailand
  • O.K. Paella, Toledo, Spain
  • OK Painters, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Simply Basic, Barcelona
  • Typical Gift, Toledo, Spain

Closely related to understatement, and just as dynamic, are the businesses  whose owners favor highly generalized branding. Here are those latest additions:

  • Exciting Things, Barcelona
  • News & Things, Llandudno, UK
  • Rainbows & Calico Things Quilt Shop, Williamsburg, IA
  • Smoke and Such, Dempster
  • Soup and Such, Billings, Montana

Formal titles are always appreciated, though the side-by-side Dr. And Mr. Cell in Chicago’s Little India neighborhood do make you wonder about the back story. Sibling rivalry? Perhaps Ma & Pa unwound their partnership?

  • Dr. Cell, Chicago
  • Mr. Cell, Chicago
  • Mister Gift, Barcelona
  • Mr. Lightbulb, Toledo, Ohio
  • Mister Olimpic, Barcelona

Then of course there are the names that appeal to baser instincts, or at least senses of humor.

  • Kum & Go, Humboldt, Iowa

There also are some new pictures for old favorites:


See these and all the other great store names.

Outsider Art: Chicago We Own It

The big Chicago Calling show at Intuit, curated by Lisa Stone and Ken Burkhart, features 10 important artists, most of them canonical in the outsider art world. I got to curate a small annex exhibit, Chicago We Own It, that explicitly looks outside the canon and at how this kind of art has been collected in Chicago.

To say there is a uniquely Chicago school of collecting may be an overstatement, but there does seem to be a Chicago style of collecting, characterized by an acquisitive eye and a hunger to spot creativity wherever and however it turns up, no matter how unlikely the setting and without much regard to anxieties about aesthetic categories or theories.

Maxwell Street Market, 1988
Maxwell Street Market, 1988

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Farewell Joe Markevicius

Joe Markevicius, Riverview

I learned today of the death of Joe Markevicius, one of my favorite artists. Joe was a “soutsider” artist, a graduate of Gage Park High School and a wizard with pastels. I always thought there was a sadness to Joe at least partly reflected in his choice of subject — mostly Chicago places that had disappeared or were in the process of disappearing.
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Harvey Ford: Objects of Beautyness

Harvey Ford was a prolific producer of drawings when he was in the art program at Joliet’s Stateville Penitentiary, but he also made some impressive sculptures, mostly ceramic, and at least a few papier-mâché. The colors and shapes are more than a match for the intensity of his drawings, many of which he made with burnt matches.

Although prison art programs produce a lot of material that is of little interest beyond the cellblock walls, the Stateville program, as its output makes evident, encouraged artists to follow their own creative direction. Ford was a true visionary and a case study in the potential of institutions to unlock amazing creative talent.

“You never quit looking. You sit there, look at a blank piece of paper, take a photo of your mind and wait for your hands” to go to work, he told me in 1992.

The result, he explained, is “something in a different dimension.
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My Last Days Of Vinyl

Angelic Gospel Singers, James Brown
This week I completed my decade-long record-digitization project, having ripped around 675 vinyl LPs, 150 78s and 1,100-plus 45s.

First record ripped, on Dec. 8, 2007: a 78 rpm disk of Milky White Way / Bread of Heaven by the Angelic Gospel Singers, followed by I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me and several other vintage James Brown albums. Last record ripped, on May 19, 2018: A 7-inch record with uplifting public service announcements for young people from the Wayout project, circa 1980s. Immediately before that: three square-dance records complete with calls. I didn’t exactly save the best for last.

The process has given me a chance to revisit records I hadn’t touched in years, and some — especially 45s — I had never heard. There were many great discoveries among the old soul and R&B records I used to acquire by the stack at thrift stores and flea markets. Lots of obscure (and, it turns out, often valuable) Chicago soul recordings.

612 thrift-store-bound 45s612 thrift-store-bound 45s

Now it’s all about disposal. These are the 612 45s that are Howard Brown thrift store bound. I have eBay aspirations for another 500 or so 45s. The thrift store records are fine musically, just not worth enough to bother selling. Of course there are still several boxes of LPs to be sold, and a few dozen 78s. So not totally finished with the vinyl/shellac.