The Only Sure Thing

If we live a good life, we get to say that we met a certain number of people who were blissfully “one of a kind” — in one day, one day!, sweet Wade Wharton introduced me to his friends Tat Bailey, Bill Wilson, and John Farrer who all fully met that description.

The ridiculous part of this is that each of those men — each a close friend of Wade, was in his own right an incredible artist, and had an unmistakable, strong personality, undeniably a “one of a kind”. John was a sculptor with big public commissions. Bill was a poet, a pique assiette artist. Wade, well, Wade had an art environment and made all kinds of sculptures (when he wasn’t woodworking or making silly things from gourds). And Tat. Where to even start (with the covered bridge he built, his stonework, or what?).

I was thinking of Tat today and found this on Vimeo:

“he got more friends than anybody in this country. And he’s done more to help more people than anybody, any one person or any dozen people that I know of.”

The Only Sure Thing from Western Kentucky Photojournalism on Vimeo.

Here, just three the images I took from some of the visits I made to Tat’s home. What an incredible, incredible human being.

Revolving Table Restaurants + Wayne White Art News (yes, those go together here)

Revolving table restaurants — the ones with the giant lazy susan in the middle on which large communal dishes are passed with the gentle push/pull of the mechanism to diners all seated ’round — are literally few and far between.

While we’ve visited time and time again Walnut Hills in Vicksburg (our last visit in late December:)

The food has been mostly bland and boring. I love most any greens any way — and I don’t mind at alllll if vegetables have been cooked for hours and hours until they are babyfood soft — but from the sides to the mains (incl the fried chicken) it was just not at all delicious. Not bad, but not great. And this goes through my head too: is it worth the calories? Nope.

On the table this day: catfish, rice & gravy, yam pone, purple hull peas, fried corn, fried okra, green beans, turnip greens, coleslaw, macaroni & cheese…

…chocolate pudding for dessert. It pains me to say this all wasn’t great because revolving tables is a thing that should go on forever. Forever, forever. We’ve met so many nice people this way…it’s hard not to get to know people you may otherwise never have any interaction with when you’re asking them to spin you those collards again. But it’s just not as fab as it used to be. Or as fab as I made it in my mind just because I love this whole concept.

Here’s my go at it — just a bite or two of everything so it doesn’t get crazy and there’s room if something’s really fab. But also: spending $22pp means this is just not a great value if you aren’t on the football team and feel like attacking the table. Annnnd it seems crazy wasteful, too.

Besides Walnut Hills in Vicksburg, there’s also the Dinner Bell in McComb, Mississippi (my fave of the two left in MS):

plus Bea’s in Chattanooga:

and finally, Buckner’s Family Restaurant in Jackson, Georgia, which is right off I-75, maybe 45 minutes S of Atlanta.

Not only was it good, the people there were super friendly and nice, and the place was really, really clean.

It’s hard for food to look wonderful on melamine plates in this lighting, but trust me — pretty great.

Back to Chattanooga for a sec: Wayne-O-Rama has been extended to September 30 (yes! See you there later this month!) and the Wayne White ‘Thrill After Thrill’ exhibit at the Hunter has been extended so it’s now closing December 31.

Artsy Asks About ‘Outsider Art’ Privacy

Artsy posted a piece today entitled ‘When Is an Artist’s Mental Health Your Business?‘:

In the case of so-called outsider art, or art made by those distant from the “art world” (often with mental health complications), it’s an even thornier issue. Curators, and those charged with translating and presenting the story of art to a wider public, have difficult choices to make. What details are relevant, rather than just salacious? Where is the dividing line between honest explication and exploitation?

Valérie Rousseau, who works at the American Folk Art Museum in NYC as curator of 20th-century and contemporary art is interviewed, and says:

“We always caricature our fields by saying that we’re all about biographies, and the market builds mythologies around the artist,” she explains, sitting in a gallery full of Gabritschevsky’s fantastical gouache paintings. In the case of these dual exhibitions, Rousseau says, “I didn’t [include] anything specific about their mental illnesses, and everybody is asking me: ‘Oh, by the way, I know it’s not written on the walls—but can you tell me? What exactly was the diagnosis of Gabritschevsky?’ People are savvy and curious about this connection, and they want to know. But I question the validity of giving them the answer.”

At the same time, she notes, what would providing diagnostic or clinical information really add to that exhibition experience? Audiences, weaned on Hollywood and pop-psychology, might fancy themselves experts—but what comprehension does the casual viewer actually have of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia?

Agreed. There are some instances in which knowing a person’s background means *everything* in giving the art richer meaning and relatedness. I’m thinking here of my very deeply missed friend Wade Wharton, who suffered several strokes in his life. He would tell me over and over about how the strokes literally changed his brain in how he was able to see things, how he was able to interpret things and work them out mentally and with his hands. Because of the strokes, Wade’s walking wasn’t so great (I was always afraid he was going to fall in the yard) and his speech was a little impaired. But knowing about how Wade viewed the strokes as opening his mind to this talent makes seeing it even greater. Wade wanted people to know about the strokes, and there’s no controversy about details like that.

Here, Wade’s “skinny Buddha”

Many other artists I’ve known or studied have been convinced that they’ve been directed by the Almighty to do their work…that they were given a non-verbal sign, or that they were actually spoken to. W.C. Rice believed that he had been healed by G-d in 1960 from an ulcerated stomach, but didn’t start building his Cross Garden in Prattville, Alabama until 1976, the year his mother passed away. Someone had gotten a flower-covered cross at the florist that he was enamored with, then shortly thereafter, the L-rd spoke to him, telling him to put three crosses outside. Then, the L-rd asked him to put crosses in the den of his home. He kept following direction, and in 1980 constructed the ‘Church of G-d, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost Roadside Chapel’. Here, it’s interesting to know the story — especially so since W.C. Rice wasn’t a preacher like Rev Kornegay or Finster who had their own environments — but not absolutely integral in understanding the work.

Turning the page, though, I know of artists who have mental issues going on that should be kept absolutely private. Knowing why someone is obsessed with a certain topic/symbol/word, or the back-story to a work is gratifying in an “I get it now” way, but it’s not an ethically compelling reason to let the world in on what’s going on.

In the Artsy piece, Susanne Zander of Delmes & Zander, whose gallery includes work by the late Louisiana artist Prophet Royal Robertson:

“Essentially, we are not that interested in the mental history of the artist,” she says. “The selection of the artists in our program is based mainly on the quality of their work, irrespective of whether or not it was produced specifically for the art market. It’s important for us that the quality is on a par with established art production, and that the artists are judged not for any of their psychological problems—but rather for the quality, individuality, and autonomy of their artistic work.”

Yes again. Though it seems so interesting that the author here speaks with a gallery which shows the work of the Prophet, because if you didn’t know about his marital problems and his ensuing mental issues/obsessions, you’d wonder why exactly are you hating women? what brings you to that kind of loathing and hostility? and not understand this is part of the deep deep deep dark hole that opened up in his mind with Adell’s leaving.

On the other hand, in her 2011 NYT review of the White Columns gallery show in which he was included, of the Prophet’s personal life, Roberta Smith had exactly this to say:

He believed in space aliens and was fluent in the Bible and furious with his former wife, Adell.  

So there’s that.

BTW, news soon on preservation for Margaret’s Grocery in Vicksburg, where Margaret and the Rev H.D. Dennis loved everybody.

Cathedral of Junk

One of my other Austin friends, Scott — who has his own art environment — took me to visit his friend Vince who is the creator of the Cathedral of Junk.

Because Scott and Vince have been friends for so long, we got to visit for a long time (and Scott had called him earlier in the week about coming over for a while). But before I get too far ahead, it’s absolutely imperative that visitors call before they visit — Vince’s number is 512-299-7413 and he’s pretty adamant about people having appointments. He’s kind, but he’s serious about a minimum of disruption to the neighborhood. When a couple of cars full of people showed up to see him while Scott and I were visiting, he sent them away, even though they explained they were only in town for a day or two and were from different states. Besides Vince’s sanity, there’s another reason for that…

He’s been working on the cathedral since the late 80s, and then around 2010, there were complaints. City inspectors came in and made a big deal about safety and permits, neighbors were apparently complaining about the parking situation and total strangers showing up whenever in the neighborhood.

Vince had to start taking the cathedral down — volunteers came out and helped. At one point, he was just sick of the whole thing. But finally the city relented, no doubt due in large part to community outrage that part of what helps Keep Austin Weird was being stomped on.

From The Statesman in June 2010:

Hanneman said he is happy that the structure will remain an Austin landmark but said working through the city bureaucracy was unnecessarily complicated. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he said. “It was like a cross between a divorce and a death.”

There are several different ways around, ways up to the top, and pathways with colorways

A must-do in Austin. You could spend an hour or a few hours and of course you’re never going to see it all. Fab.

Big, big, big thanks to Scott for arranging my visit and to Vince for being so kind and hanging out while showing us his work. xoxo!

Kara Walker’s Upcoming Installation For NOLA’s Prospect.4 Biennial, And Uncomfortable Art

The NYT had a feature on Kara Walker’s installation for New Orleans’ Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp triennial later this year.

Ms. Walker’s contribution will be at Algiers Point, where a ferry will take visitors to an installation she created for a riverboat calliope — a pipe organ evocative of old circuses and steamboats — with the MacArthur-winning jazz pianist Jason Moran.

The piece only mentions four other works, those by Yoko Ono, the late Louis Armstrong (collages), Derrick Adams, and Mark Dion.

There will be a total of 73 artists taking part at 17 different venues around the city. Thirty of the works will be original for the triennial.

Here, a series of Kara’s works I photographed at the 21c Hotel Museum in Bentonville

and though her pieces are in the collections of several different museums, my favorite thus far is of her Freedom Fighters for the Society of Forgotten Knowledge, Northern Domestic Scene at the Menil in Houston.

At today’s NYT, Kara Walker is quoted on the Dana Schutz painting of Emmett Till’s coffin, “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial — actually the NYT article is on that and the Sam Durant “Scaffold” sculpture.

Kara Walker noted that “the history of painting is full of graphic violence and narratives that don’t necessarily belong to the artists own life,” but may inspire “deeper inquiries and better art. It can only do this when it is seen.”

(There are always things that will make people feel uncomfortable, and taking out all that juicy uncomfortable-ness would make a world full of…I don’t know…boring Thomas Kinkade in which we’re all just blankly staring slack-jawed at paintings of snow-capped mountain peaks. Pope.L’s “Claim”, at the Whitney Biennial in which he used slices of (real, stinky, pork maybe? prob?) bologna nailed to walls with b&w pictures of people atop to represent the percentage of Jews in New York (whyyyyyy?)makes me uncomfortable. And yet The Root thought it was pretty awesome. So what makes some of us cringe makes others applaud. Thus, art.)

Speaking of rotten food in an exhibit: Spencer Shoults “Cupcakes!” at Space One Eleven several years ago

Ingredients: acetic acid, acrylic tubing, baking powder, bolts, distilled water, eggs, eye bolts, flour, food coloring, glass, glue, grain alcohol, graphite, honey, hose clamps, hydrogen peroxide, icing, masonite, milk, motor oil, nails, paint, plastic caps, pvc tubing, salt, screws, shortening, silicone, silicone tape, sprinkles, sugar, teflon tape, valves, vanilla extract, white wine, wire, wood”

21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, And Finally Some Graeter’s

The last night of our Kentucky/Ohio trip, we stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati. Like the 21c in Louisville, this one is also downtown. Out front, this Werner Reiterer brass chandelier:

Inside, like the other 21Cs that we’ve been to, there’s lots of artspace to explore. this is the Norbert Brunner ‘You are Enchanting’
Norbert Brunner, You Are Enchanting, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Grimanesa Amoros’ Uros
Grimanesa Amoros, Uros, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Astrid Korgh’s Lightmail
Astrid Krogh, Lightmail, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Astrid Krogh, Lightmail, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Paul Rucker’s September 15, 1963 Birmingham, Alabama
Paul Rucker, September 15 1963 Birmingham Alabama, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Paul Rucker, September 15 1963 Birmingham Alabama, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Walter Oltmann’s Shel
Walter Oltmann, Shel, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Brian Knep’s Healing Tiles were fun to walk on to see the shapes morph
Brian Knep, Healing Tiles, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Our room — like the other 21Cs, it was rather plain and functional — not especially luxurious
Hotel Room, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Hotel Room, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Bathroom, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

the shower had body-part tiles
Bathroom, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

…and we got to play with the penguins, which in Cincinnati are yellow
Shugie and Me and Yellow Penguin, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Shugie and Yellow Penguin, 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati OH//

Now that we’ve stayed at the Bentonville, Lexington, and Cincinnati 21c hotels, we’d like to visit the others — Durham, Louisville, OKC, Nashville (the newest), and soon, Kansas City. 
We had something to celebrate, so we went to supper at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, which is very close to the hotel. It’s ‘modeled after the 1940’s-era French Art Deco Steakhouses of New York City‘ and there was someone singing in the bar area. We were seated in this area:

Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, Cincinnati OH//

butter, and truffle garlic butter for the bread

Shugie had the crab bisque, which he loved

Av had a perfect, perfect, perfect steak
Steak, Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, Cincinnati OH//

We all shared the Potatoes Anna which is absolutely so pretty (so pretty that we saw it served at another table and had to ask what it was so we could have one)
Potatoes Anna at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, Cincinnati OH//

I just wasn’t in the mood for a steak or salad, so had a hamburger (which I rarely order anywhere) which was so incredibly good
Hamburger and French Fries, chJeff Ruby's Steakhouse, Cincinnati OH//

We had just a lovely, lovely supper and walked back to the hotel to take in more art before bed.

Oh — and since we were in Cincinnati, we found a Graeter’s for a little ice cream the next day

Back to the hotel: Pableaux Johnson wrote for the NYT Come for the Guest Rooms. Stay for the Art Galleries. about the small 21c hotel collection:

The multiple locations significantly increase operational complexity, because different historic venues impose structural limitations on which works can be shown, and exhibitions are often reinterpreted as they move between locations. A show that works well on the former factory floor in Oklahoma City might not lend itself to Lexington’s taller spaces.

Mr. Wilson, Ms. Brown and Ms. Stites also travel with acquisition in mind; exhibition inventories frequently change, and the collection evolves. “We’re always on the lookout for new work that will welcome, intrigue and inspire,” Ms. Stites said. “Contemporary art is getting more global in nature, and we want to find a way to integrate it into daily life. We can’t really understand our times until we look back, so we need artists to help us look ahead.”

…and Conde Nast Traveler on Why Nashville’s Hotel Scene Is Hotter Than Ever mentions the new 21c there *and* another I’d really like to give a try: the Thompson

The New 21c Museum Hotel: Lexington, Kentucky

On our last trip to Kentucky, we stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington. It’s right downtown, walkable to everything, and only turned a year old last month.

Upon entrance: this SOFTlab Spectralline light sculpture

Softline: Spectraline at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

this seating area features a Tord Boonjte ice branch chandelier
Tord Boonjte: Ice Branch Chandelier at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Nice Cave Soundsuit
Nick Cave: Soundsuit (2007) at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Nick Cave: Soundsuit, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Our room — comfortable but not plush, and for whatever reason didn’t come across as quite as much fun or quirky as our 21c room in Bentonville

There were TCHO chocolates on the bed, and Malin and Goetz bath products

Shugie was with us on this trip, and he got to move the blue penguins around — here on the elevator

and another was thoughtfully delivered to our room by a staffer so we played around for a while

view from our room

We explored all the art spaces. A small fraction posted here (and they change exhibits often), but on this visit:

a Mariu Palacios

Yinko Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare's Coffin Sculptures at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

…these are Ebony G Patterson coffin sculptures
Yinka Shonibare's Coffin Sculptures at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Yinka Shonibare: The Age of Enlightenment, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

more Ebony G Patterson works:
Ebony G Patterson works, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Ebony G Patterson works, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

blue penguins were stationed in the galleries to admire the art
Blue Penguins Admiring Art, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Blue Penguins Admiring Art, at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Here, the hotel’s Lockbox restaurant
Lockbox Restaurant at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

Lockbox Restaurant at Lexington KY 21c Museum Hotel//

…and out front, a Pieke Bergman ‘Totally in Love’ light sculpture (I think I see another of his sculptures going up in downtown Huntsville, Alabama, but haven’t gotten close enough to be certain)
Pieke Bergman: Totally in Love at 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington KY//

Howard Finster and Paradise Gardens

We made it to Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens! It was wonderful!

Howard Finster was born and grew up in Alabama, but he moved to Pennville, Georgia as an adult and transformed what used to be a dump into his own evangelical art environment.  Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.  His schooling ended when he finished sixth grade and as a teenager he became a traveling preacher, and that eventually took him to Georgia.  In his thirties, he started making his own miniature buildings and religious assemblages, and when he moved to Pennville he took those and that was the start of Paradise Gardens, which he at that time called ‘Plant Farm Museum’.

Below is a pic of the World’s Folk Art Church – some people call it the chapel, and Finster used to perform weddings there.  It started out as a ‘regular’ church, and he bought it with money he received from a NEA grant.  He added to it after getting a vision of it having extra floors and a big steeple…

This is a *great* video of Finster on the Johnny Carson show: