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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
Frank’s West Side Auto Parts, at Kedzie Avenue and 30th Street, is an art gallery unto itself. Plus, there are other great signs in its vicinity, including more auto parts art and other examples of vernacular creativity.
I’m joining with several other collectors for a two-day art sale Friday April 20 (5-8) and Saturday April 21 (11-5) at Intuit, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. The emphasis will be self-taught, folk and outsider art, but there will also be African masks, textiles, kitsch items, contemporary art and other interesting things — lots of cool stuff at very good prices. You can see a flier below, and photos of some of the things I’m planning to bring. It should be a fun event, and We’ll be donating 10% of our proceeds to Intuit.
While you’re at Intuit, we’ve got two great exhibits — the fabulous Stephen Warde Anderson in the back room and five great Wisconsin artists in the front. Plus upstairs will be the very popular Closet Clearance Sale offering new, vintage and gently-used clothing and accessories (more information at http://www.art.org/closet-clearance-2018).
Jim Shaw: The Hidden World, edited by Marc-Olivier Wahler. Koenig Books, London, 512 pages, 2014. ISBN: 978-3863355845. Hardcover.
Jim Shaw’s collection of religious, political and cultural ephemera, published in 2014 as an exhibition catalog, makes for a great book, especially if your collecting interests align with Shaw’s, as mine not coincidentally do. Continue reading →
As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither, by Michelle White, with contributions by Lynne Adele, Brooke Davis Anderson, Haley Berkman, David Breslin, Víctor M. Espinosa, William Fagaly, Edward M. Gómez, Jo Farb Hernández, Lee Kogan, Colin Rhodes and Leslie Umberger. The Menil Collection, Houston, 112 pages, 114 color illustrations, 2016. ISBN: 9780300218411. Hardcover, $45.
As Essential as Dreams could easily have been another routine entry in a long line of vanity art projects-exhibits of personal collections, ideally at prestige museums, with catalogs just weighty enough to prove the collectors’ good taste and sound artistic investment.
That’s not to say the shows can’t be fun to visit and worthily eye-opening. Indeed, the collections they feature seem to be maturing in sophistication and depth, while the rising profile of scholars is helping equalize the intellectual and physical heft of their catalogs.
The 2013 Great and Mighty Things exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a breakthrough show from a personal collection, and 2016’s Stephanie and John Smither show represents another gratifyingly substantial exhibit mounted by a highly-respected mainstream museum, Houston’s Menil Collection. Reports say the show was impressive in person, even if smaller than the Philadelphia blockbuster. Continue reading →
Outsider Art: Visionary Worlds and Trauma, by Daniel Wojcik. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 276 pages, 174 color illustrations, 2016. ISBN: 978-1496808066. Hardcover, $45
Can we agree that the art still sometimes known as outsider is much more interesting than what to call it? It might seem a simple enough proposition, yet arguments over the label continue to distract from the art, even among those who consider the debate mostly fruitless.
Daniel Wojcik’s book is a case in point. When it’s good, it’s very good, providing sensitive, thoughful accounts of the art and its creators, with real insights into the psychological, cultural and practical dimensions of their art making. Wojcik does consume a few too many precious pages diving into decades-old polemics, however, recounting the traditional indictment that charges the O word with elitism, exclusion and marginalization. Continue reading →
It took a long time to get to the Ventures in my project to rip and sell a large vinyl collection. I left them for the end because, frankly, I wasn’t sure I could face listening to the hours of music my Ventures 24 albums contained.
These guys released some two dozen albums in the first half of the 1960s alone, and they must have been desperate for material. How else to explain why a song like Jimmy Crack Corn – a standby from everyone’s second or third music lesson — would wind up on Dance With The Ventures (also known as Twist Party Vol. 2 — itself a title that speaks volumes about the integrity of this group’s artistic vision).
It’s not that the Ventures were bad. In fact, it turned out I’ve enjoyed listening to the hours of instrumentals I ripped. But in their vast output it’s not always easy to find the kind of passion you expect in headlining musicians. And how could they be so unalterably square in a period when being hip was not that hard, something that Johnny Cash so ably demonstrated? Yes, I’m happy today that I can listen to their rendition of the Get Smart theme, but its existence speaks volumes about what the Ventures weren’t up to in the 1960s. Continue reading →