It was late -not enough time to jump into MOMA, but enough time to enjoy what was on offer next door at a great little place – The American Folk Art Museum. Just a few long, narrow floors that are divided into an exhibition space and a walkway by an atrium displaying weathervanes and other large objects. There were three exhibitions to check out: a collection of work by self-taught artist Eugene von Bruenchenheim, a show curated on the theme of the figure in folk art and a beautiful exhibition of quilts – this being the year of the quilt.
I had never heard of Eugene von Bruenchenheim, but then then that’s the thing with “folk” or “outsider” artists -they aren’t “known”, they just make. He was prolific, producing drawings, photos, sculptures, paintings and poems!! Fifty years worth of sustained and energetic creative output was sitting in his Milwaukee house when he died in 1983, with just his family and a few close friends knowing about his work. An online collection of his painting with a fair bit of info on him, states that he did attempt to sell his work but had no success. Lack of recognition clearly had no effect on his desire to create.
The work is unbelievable – the slightly gawky photos of his wife dressed up as different charachters, the lurid rainbow coloured paintings of buildings that look like some kind of drug-induced hallucination, the insane collecting of turkey and chicken bones that are then glued together into towers and thrones and coated with metallic paint, the weird botanical ceramic things (that were apparently made from clay from a building site and baked in his oven!) and the geometric ball point pen drawings in a wallpaper sample book… I walked around unable to really comprehend that not only was this was the work of one man, but it was also a very small sample of his total ouput.
Discovering something that makes you wonder at the complexity of the imagination, something that communicates the joy of making and when you walk away you feel inspired – that’s what going to a show is about for me.