Monday, June 8, 2015

A Little Drag

Emily Brandehoff's take on Goya.

Marc Lambert's take on van Gogh.

Antonio Adams' take on da Vinci.
Why not go for the gusto?

"Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act… The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is non-carnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it… or any other form of inequality among people."  From Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.

Since starting this whole thing with Visionaries + Voices (V+V) back in the day, I always wanted to focus on the way art made by artists who are disconnected from the "restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary [...] life" is packaged and seen and thought about, and one of the best ways, at least from my POV, is to locate it right smack-dab in the middle of the restrictions.  One manner of defining "outsider artists" is to assume they have no connection to art history, that narrative and thoroughfare and etiquette through which credentialed "insider artists" often enter into careers, or at least shows.  In fact that definition is often celebrated by both ends of the spectrum:  by outsider art enthusiasts gloating over an artist's disenfranchisement and therefore his/her "power" in that realm, and by insider art critics who dabble a little bit in outsider-art criticism when there's a big museum show featuring some of it, wherein outsiders artists are cast as heroic self-taught "geniuses," beyond the "need" for education or edification or inspiration outside of their own little screwy worlds. 

In 2007, one of the first big gigs we did as V+V was "Pop Life:  Outsider Artists and the Pop Idea" at the University of Cincinnati Galleries.  Basically we took Andy Warhol's oeuvre and used it as a resource and confidence-builder for artists at the studio to kind of relocate themselves beyond "Outsiderland." This intervention was pretty conventional and yet kind of messed-up too, allowing participating artists a place where they were able to find a little piece of the world free of the "terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with hierarchical structures."  It was a joyous thing to me to witness:  all that art being birthed from the heard of Zeus/Warhol, positing Andy as an outsider in multiple incarnations (gay and working class, just to start).  A review in one of the local papers stated:  "Outsider art is controversial. Some theorists claim that 'pure' outsider art can only be made when the artist hasn't been exposed to art history or contemporary culture. But that belief assumes that somewhere there exists some Eden-like state, chaste and unmolested, and forgets that even things like art history and contemporary culture are arbitrary. Some might call Aboriginal art outsider art without considering the fact that Aboriginal artists have history and culture; it just doesn't look like ours."  The writer tries really hard and with a lot of genuine sweetness there, but she still doesn't get it.  Kudos for trying anyway.  It's not about "their" history and culture "looking like ours."  It's our culture and history.  Period. 

Oh well.

In 2009, we did it again at the Cincinnati Art Museum, with a show called "Matisse & Picasso:  a Visionary Exploration."  This one had the same strategy as "Pop Life," but we emphasized the inspirations taken on by Matisse and Picasso back when they were formulating their versions of Modernism -- as in lifting ever so lovingly from African sculptors and residents of insane asylums, etc.  In flipping that script a little, we tried to figure out how artists we were supporting had a powerful place to work from, outside of being "educated" about art history.  They have a claim to make.  We did a little slightly saccharine but well intended video for this gig.  You can check it out here:  "Matisse & Picasso: A Visionary Exploration."

In our guise as Thunder-Sky, Inc. we do a lot of this kind of stuff without even trying, trying to pull together artists from all kinds of backgrounds, contexts, and hierarchies into one small but truly articulated zone -- what Bakhtin posits as the "carnival [...] a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act…"  This act is making art, showing it, and celebrating it without a lot of b-s (outside of the b-s I'm generating right now of course, which is the kind of b-s I'm drawn to so there you go).  But also finding meaning inside that smallness, and each show we do does what it does, hopefully accumulating some sense and significance through the process.  Since starting Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, we've taken on William Blake, Flannery O'Connor, Abstract Expressionism, and a few other modes of American Art and Not-Art History; we don't do this just to be smarty-pants, because we're not that inclined to impress people, just to find a way to relocate and redefine and redeploy some of the ways we treat artists (and people) based on who they happen to be. 

So here comes another iteration:  "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art."  This one opens Friday June 26, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, Inc in Northide next to NVision next to the Comet.  Take a look up top to see some great carnivalizations of high-end art, tongue-in-cheek, but also lovingly made, with a strict eye toward creating something beautiful and funny to look at.  The artists we asked to be a part are maybe "outsider artists," maybe not.  Who cares?  That distinction kind of melts away once you get over a lot of things, including the need to care too much how you're seen and how you see.    

At the end of the day, as Rupaul says, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag."  The quote up top by Mr. Bahktin is probably the urtext that defines Ru's whole career, and what we're trying to do most of the time too. 

Raymond loved carnivals.  He also loved a little drag.