The American Folk Art Museum is presenting a selection of recent gifts in all media and forms dating from the early Nineteenth Century to the present day for the first time in an installation that opened recently on the fifth floor.
Highlighting the diversity of the museum’s growing collection, the exhibition “Recent Gifts to the American Folk Art Museum: A Collection Sampler” explores both the traditional and unconventional facets of folk art and the work of self-taught artists.
Organized by Stacy C. Hollander, senior curator and Brooke Davis Anderson, curator and director of the museum’s Contemporary Center, the exhibition reflects the expanding mission and collecting interests of the museum.
“A Collection Sampler” includes a nearly life-size mid-Nineteenth Century portrait by Joseph Whiting Stock that shows a young boy on the edges of childhood. He is standing next to a cornucopia-shaped vase on a side table filled with flowers, hinting at the fruitful life ahead. This incidental motif initiates a dialogue with another work, the three-dimensional allegorical figure of “Flora,” whose cornucopia spilling over with flowers converses in the installation with a rare and early bridal quilt, stenciled with images of flower-filled urns. Additionally, the curvaceous female form of Flora also relates to Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s lush circa 1940s photographs of his beloved wife, Marie, sensuously posed against a dense floral wallpaper background.
A Nineteenth Century child’s horsedrawn chariot shares a sense of youth with several other objects in the exhibition – the school girl silk embroidery of “Aurora” racing through the sky in a star-studded chariot and the tiny portrait of the 18-month-old child William Chandler pushing a very large wheelbarrow with a prancing horse depicted on its side. An unknown Twentieth Century artist fashioned whimsical insect and animal toys out of tin cans, beads, plastic baubles and paint.
The massive fabric wrapped sculptures by Judith Scott, a contemporary California artist, stand in monumental contrast with seven small-scale enigmatic works by the Philadelphia wireman; a 1930s circular rug composed entirely of folded plastic Wonder Bread wrappers connects in its use of found materials to an elaborately carved mid-Twentieth Century tramp art shelf.
Earnest Nineteenth Century portraits by New Englanders Stock and Erastus Salisbury Field yield to the swirling romanticism of figures by Aloise Corbaz, an early Twentieth Century Swiss artist. Her double-sided painting of couples embracing is composed of crayon, pencil and flower juice. It contrasts with the robust depictions of the boxers “Abe. – Kane” and preacher “Rev Cathit” painted on tin and wood by the South Carolina artist Sam Doyle.
A stoneware cooler is emblazoned with the blue figure of an eagle and shield, and a five-foot-high barbershop trade figure of “Dapper Dan” proudly sports patriotic red and white striped pants.
The iconic figure of “St Tammany,” a 9-foot-high Indian weathervane that soars in the grand staircase of the museum from the third to the fourth floor, now has a female companion, an elaborately hooked rug with the initials D. of P. (degree of Pocahontas).
In furtherance of the museum’s ongoing commitment to exhibit the work of the reclusive Chicago artist Henry Darger, a 1999 gift/purchase, a presentation of watercolors and archival material that explores his Catholicism has been selected by Gerard C. Wertkin, the museum’s director.
The American Folk Art Museum is at 45 West 53 Street. For information, 212-265-1040 or www.folkartmuseum.org.