Wexner Center for the Arts

Ohio State University

Columbus, OH





Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology


A rich, captivating exhibition of more than 200 works by self-taught artists is on view at the Wexner Center through August 8, 1999. Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology celebrates one of the most vital spheres of American art, featuring works such luminaries as Grandma Moses, John Kane, Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor, Howard Finster, Nellie Mae Rowe, and Columbus artists Elijah Pierce and William L. Hawkins. This authoritative show includes 31 artists overall, spanning the entire century and occupying three of the four Wexner Center galleries.

Images from top to bottom: Edgar Tolson, Man With Pony, 1958, carved and assembled painted wood, The Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art M1969.314; Justin McCarthy, Candlelight in Acapulco Ice Follies 1964, n.d., oil on masonite, 35 3/4 x 32 inches, Museum of American Folk Art, NY, gift of Elias Getz, 1961.7.4; Elijah Pierce, Crucifixion, mid-1930s, carved and painted wood with glitter mounted on wood panel, 47 1/8 x 30 1/2 inches, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH, museum purchase.

The genre of self-taught art (sometimes called folk art or outsider art) covers a diverse array of artistic media, styles, and themes. The artists come from both rural and urban communities, and from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Among their subject matter: politics, social commentary, UFOs, daily life, sex, and personal obsessions. Materials used range from paint to wood to glitter. All of the artists in the exhibition worked outside the confines of art schools and museums, and their art -- as Gerard C. Wertkin, Director of the Museum of American Folk Art, puts it -- has a "self-evident power to elicit responses of wonder and awe.

Elsa Longhauser, Director for the Paley/Levy Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia -- and an authority on self-taught art -- guest curated the exhibition. Collaborating with Longhauser was noted independent Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, known for his work on such international contemporary exhibitions as "Documenta 5" and the Venice Biennale, and for his work as director of Kunsthalle Bern from 1961 to 1969.

Images from left to right: Steve Ashby, Untitled, n.d., housepaint on wood with photo and mixed media collage, collection of Robert A. Roth; Martin Ramirez, Untitled, c. 1950, graphite, tempera and crayon on paper, 110 x 51 inches, collection of Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson, photo by William Bengston

Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology offers the opportunity to see masterpieces by famous and not-so-famous fiercely independent self-taught artists from across the country. The exhibition represents an astonishing range of artworks, varied in tone, subject matter, and materials used. The show includes works by the legendary Grandma Moses, sculptor/painter Henry Church Jr. from northern Ohio, and Pennsylvania artist Horace Pippin, considered one of the most important African-American artists of this century. Pieces by celebrated woodcarver Elijah Pierce and painter/collagist William L. Hawkins, both from Columbus, are on view. (Hawkins's Columbus-themed paintings -- of local landmarks such as Ohio Stadium and Wendy's -- have been specially added for the Wexner Center's presentation of this exhibition.)

Mexican-born Martin Ramirez, who worked as an artist during the 1950s while hospitalized in a California mental hospital, has been named a folk art master -- of space, of patterning, and of metaphors mapping psychological terrain. Steve Ashby's cartoonlike whirligigs made of "found" materials often depict men and women in amusing sexual scenarios. Jesse Howard's sculptures incorporate Biblical passages and other phrases. And painter Justin McCarthy's Candlelight in Acapulco Ice Follies 1964 seems inspired by pure joy. Young artists Purvis Young, Lonnie Holley and literary painter Ken Grimes are represented as well, demonstrating that self-taught artists continue to produce important and relevant art today.

William Hawkins images from left to right: Ohio Stadium, 1983, enamel on masonite, 36 x 48 inches, collection of Marion Bolton Stroud, courtesy of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, photo by Joseph Painter; Willard Hotel, c. 1987, enamel on masonite, 48 x 60 inches, collection of Robert M. Greenberg.

Wrote the New York Times of self-taught art, "it is almost by definition an art of edges and intensities, of perspectives often shaped, harshly, by class or race or psychological isolation, producing unpredictably faceted pegs that don't easily fit into a dominant culture's round holes."

Images from left to right: Purvis Young, Locked Up Their Minds, 1972, paint and wood on plywood, 84 x 84 inches includes frame, The Arnett Collection; Elijah Pierce, Louis vs. Braddock, n.d., carved and painted wood relief with glitter; mounted on painted corrugated cardboard, 21 x 23 inches, collection of Jeffrey Wolf and Jenny Nisenholz-Wolf, photo by Gavin Ashworth

The Wexner Center is the last stop on this exhibition's tour, which began at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the Amon Carter Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; and, most recently, to the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.

A catalogue published by Chronicle Books in association with the Museum of American Folk Art accompanies the exhibition. It features biographical and interpretive essays on each artist, as well as major essays by distinguished scholars. Among the writers are Arthur C. Danto, Jane Kallir, Michael D. Hall, and exhibition co-curator Elsa Longhauser.

Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology is organized and circulated by the Museum of American Folk Art, New York. It is presented with the generous support of the Lila Wallace - Reader's Digest Fund and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. Additional support for the catalogue was provided by the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and Jill and Sheldon M. Bonovitz. The exhibition is presented at the Wexner Center with the support of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Honda of America Manufacturing, the Nationwide Insurance Enterprise Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, Friends of Folk Art, and the Wexner Center Foundation.

Images from left to right: Nellie Mae Rowe, Untitled (Two Figures and an Animal), c. 1979-1980, crayon, marker and oil pastel on paper, 15 1/4 x 11 1/8 inches, Museum of American Folk Art, NY, gift of Judith Alexander, 1997.1.16; Jessie Howard, Untitled (Voice of the Bird), 1955, painted wood and metal complanter, 37 x 56 x 18 inches, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Wexner Center, a national laboratory for the arts, is a contemporary arts center dedicated to the visual, performing, and media arts with a strong commitment to the creation of new work. Its home, designed by Peter Eisenman and the late Richard Trott, has been acclaimed as a landmark of postmodern architecture. Since its opening in November 1989, the Wexner Center has presented an ambitious program of exhibitions, performances, films, and video screenings.

Location: Wexner Center for the Arts, 1871 North High Street at 15th Avenue, on the campus of The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.

Editor's note: The Wexner Center for the Arts provided source material to Resource Library for this article. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Center.

rev. 10/18/10


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