Last night we had an opening at Thunder-Sky, Inc. for a show Bill curated called, "Glory Be! (a Historical Romance): Works by Britni Bicknaver, Paul McGurl and Matthew Waldeck." It felt like old times somehow. Like 12 years ago in fact. Bill and I first curated a show of "outsider" art back in 2001, at a place called Base Gallery. That show featured Antonio Adams, Raymond Thunder-Sky, Paul Rowland and Richard Brown, all artists we had met doing our regular jobs helping people with developmental disabilities. That gig was titled "Art Thing," and it truly was a groundbreaking moment for me because I realized how art can allow you intense moments of grace and happiness that can sometimes push you forward to do bigger things. Without "Art Thing," we would not have started Visionaries and Voices, and without Visionaries and Voices we would not have opened Thunder-Sky, Inc.
What has changed in the last 12 years for me, though, is an evolution of trying to figure out how to do shows and projects and events featuring great art by artists often consigned to the background without having to frame their work with their diagnostic biographies: without having to say what they've accomplished is a product of what a doctor says they have, or has happened "in spite of" this or that diagnosis. So in "Glory Be" and in every show we do now, the idea of "disability" and "outsider" gets critiqued through stone-cold silence. That stuff just does not get mentioned because you don't need to know how "outsider" the artist is in order to enjoy the beauty and peculiarity of the art. Major case in point is "Glory Be," a show featuring three artists whose works have a lot of things in common, but whose demographics aren't really in sync. Matthew's intimate, playful drawings of famous presidents, Paul's text-infused drawings of the names of presidents and other historical figures, and Britni's sly, sleek, blithe sculptural inventions cracking the code of historical gloss and pomp -- all these works belong together, and we can relish the way they fit and knock into each other, creating both mystery and meaning. And we don't need to know who went to art school and who didn't, and we don't need to know IQ numbers or socioeconomic indicators. We just need the work to be here, pulled together succinctly, given room to expand.
Last night, too, I felt a weird, beautiful reconnection with the idea of congregating around art. I have a major fear of groups of people, but at the opening reception last night the groups of people felt organically okay somehow, as if they had come together to feel better about being people, not so they could feel charitable or sympathetic. Matthew's family brought enough food for a huge family reunion. Britni had a sweet soulful crowd of her own. It all just came together. And I got it: this is what we're supposed to do, what Thunder-Sky, Inc. is. Gatherings of people with lots of food and art and that's enough.
Like "Art Thing" back in the day. We did a full-color catalog for that show, back in 2001, and below is the back-cover, our mission statement at that time. I wish I would have known then what I know now: I would have taken out "disability" and "outsider" from the get-go. As in: "The Art Thing Project Is... ART and helping artists gain access and credibility and success on their own terms." Why do you need "outsider" or "disability" slapped onto any of these concepts and ideas? Is it the idea that first you need to assess/label/diagnose people prior to helping them? Like a doctor? Bill and I are not doctors. I don't really know what we are. But I truly understand, I think, what we're supposed to do here on out, and it has nothing to do with systems or charity, and it has everything to do with what happened last night, and what happened 12 years ago: finding ways to allow everyone to leave all the bull-shit behind, and proceed accordingly...
Below are photos of last night's opening of "Glory Be! (a Historical Romance): Work by Britni Bicknaver, Paul McGurl and Matthew Waldeck," and from March, 2001's opening night of "Art Thing: Drawings, Objects, Paintings and Words by Antonio Adams, Paul Rowland, Raymond Thunder-Sky and Richard Brown."