Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Talk on DeCordova’s “Old, Weird America”

I’ll be speaking on a panel about the exhibit “The Old, Weird America” at DeCordova at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25. But the folks you should come to hear are exhibiting artists Barnaby Furnas and Matthew Day Jackson as well as exhibit curator Toby Kamps of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Ken Turino of Historic England, and Megan Marshall, an assistant professor at Emerson College and author of the 2005 biography "The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism." The talk is free and open to the public.

The exhibition is billed as “the first museum exhibition to explore the widespread resurgence of folk imagery and mythic history in recent art from the United States.” From my review:
In the beginning, there was the Old West. The legend of the Old West's cowboys and Indians, flinty pioneers and buffalo killers, sheriffs and gunslingers started with the tall tales that cowboys themselves told of their glorious exploits. Then reporters did some more embellishing. And Buffalo Bill Cody, who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his fighting during our Indian Wars, started a circus in which he hired real Native Americans to re-enact with him the battles on stage. Which in turn inspired Hollywood Westerns.

That sort of based-on-a-true-story version of our history, in which fact gets thrillingly mixed up with fiction and turns into national myth, is the focus of the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum exhibit "The Old, Weird America: Folk Themes in Contemporary Art," which was organized by Toby Kamps for Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

The title is borrowed from Greil Marcus's 1997 book about Bob Dylan's “Basement Tapes,” an album that came out of Dylan's noodling around with traditional and original songs in 1967 while he was holed up in upstate New York recovering from a motorcycle crash. In the songs, Marcus wrote, "certain bedrock strains of American cultural language were retrieved and reinvented" as Dylan channeled the rough-and-tumble outlaw America of old folk songs, murder ballads, tramp ditties, and blues.

"Old, Weird America" assembles 18 artists who mine this vein of American history/legend, who play at being old-timey. It's a ripe subject, and it maps what may be a generational trend — most of the artists here were born in the early '70s.
Read the rest here.

“The Old, Weird America,” DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, June 6 to September 7, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Margaret Kilgallen “Main Drag” (installation view, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2008), 2001; Kara Walker, “Video still from 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker,” 2005; Charlie White, “1957,” 2006; Barnaby Furnas, “Untitled Battlescene, October 17, 2001,” 2001; Greta Pratt, “Nineteen Lincolns,” 2005; Deborah Grant, “Where Good Darkies Go,” 2006; Allison Smith “Marie Tepe, “French Mary”, Vivandiere of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer_Infantry, Collis’s Zouaves_Eliza Wilson of the 5th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry_Officer of the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, Duryée’s Zouaves_Soldier of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, Collis’s Zouaves_Lizzie Clawson Jones_Dr. Mary Edwards Walker_Soldier of the 146th New York Zouaves Volunteer Infantry” (installation view, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2008), 2005; and Sam Durant, “Pilgrims and Indians, Planting and Reaping, Learning and Teaching” (installation view, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston), 2006.


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