The weather has been cold and yucky outside, but I was thinking today of our latest visit back in April to Jim Bird’s place in Forkland, Alabama.
I’ve photographed his installations there before and have many of them in my Flickr set here, but this time mostly concentrated on the 32′ Tin Man, with the bathtub feet:
Jim started making his creations when his wife was out of town, and she loved what he made. He kept it going, and there are dozens of hay creatures and metal assemblages now. With Jim’s age, he’s stopped making the art and his son is running things at the farm.
Jim Love Lib:
In Riverside Cemetery in Demopolis, we happened to notice Lib’s monument there. She passed away in 2015, and Jim had made this bird sculpture to go on top:
Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper is a mid-career examination of one of the most creative figures working in Europe today. Belgian contemporary artist Isabelle de Borchgrave is a painter by training, and she uses paper to recreate historic fashions to dazzling effect. De Borchgrave’s collections have been shown internationally for two decades, and now they will be on view in North America with a U.S. début in Memphis, Tennessee.
This exhibition celebrates de Borchgrave’s most iconic bodies of work, including Les Ballets Russes, Papiers à la Mode, The World of Mariano Fortuny, The Kaftans, and Splendor of the Medici, all of which illuminate 500 years of fashion history:
• On view for the first time in the U.S., Les Ballets Russes features de Borchgrave’s interpretations of the costumes designed by Léon Bakst, Giorgio de Chirico, Pablo Picasso, and others.
• With Papiers à la Mode, de Borchgrave re-imagined iconic garments from world history, including dresses worn by Madame de Pompadour, Marie-Antoinette, Elizabeth I, and Empress Eugenie.
• The World of Mariano Fortuny includes interpretations of the great master painter and designer’s iconic Grecian-styled dresses and tunics from the early 20th century, while Kaftans highlights Silk Road textiles.
• The works in de Borchgrave’s Splendor of the Medici series capture the astounding luxuriousness that characterizes this extraordinary era of intellectual, scientific, literary, and artistic accomplishments.
This special Elvis piece above will remain in the Dixon’s permanent collection after the exhibit closes.
It’s all just simply stunning and the museum has done a magnificent job.
After visiting with Mr. Shankerman in his downtown department store in Clarksdale (he also sang Elvis songs for us as a sweet bonus) and he was so kind and generous with our boys, we kept on to Memphis, where it was Corky’s for supper just because we haven’t been to Corky’s in years and I think Shugie’s never been. Our top two there, I think, are still Germantown Commissary and Central.
We asked if it would be okay if we shared this platter (for one on the menu) and it was the perfect size for Av and me.
We stayed at the Memphis Marriott which is just the basic big city, vanilla Marriott. It was fine.
Av was working in Memphis, so the boys and I decided to have a museum day. We Ubered over to the Children’s Museum of Memphis where they have just opened their gorgeous, restored 1909 Dentzel Grand Carousel.
…and the little cafe has a nice place to read, snack, and play with building pieces
Thrilled to see these William Edmondson pieces. Above, ‘Courting Lady’
and here, ‘Ram’
Roger Brown ‘Clouds over Alabama’
David Bates ‘The Cat Man’
A selection of Carroll Cloar pieces (yesssss)
…but while there’s a large space for William Eggleston photographs, I really wished for a more immersive experience than just linear picture, picture, picture (the step/step/turn mode of display). It seems the Brooks should be Mecca for anyone with any interest in his work as Memphis is where he was born, and where he lives now. There should be features on everything from his Warhol-crowd years to the video work and the new synthesizer music. Places to sit with piles of his books. His place in the popularization of color photography as fine art. The ‘Elvis at Graceland’ project and how that turned out.
One of the largest collections of William Edmondson‘s art is at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville, and last month filmmaker Mark Schlicher spoke there about the artist and the fundraising he’s doing to finish his documentary entitled “Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” that he’s devoted work to over five years. (Trailer below)
William was born to Orange and Jane Brown Edmondson sometime in the 1870s — perhaps December 1874 — in Tennessee, and was born and died within a three-mile area. His parents were freed slaves who had been at the Compton Plantation (now Green Hills) in Davidson County, continuing to work there after emancipation as sharecroppers.
William moved into the city of Nashville when he got older, and suffered a leg injury from a railroad job. Unemployed, he started making tombstones for sale using old railroad spikes and hammers to make shapes.
Smithsonian Magazine August 1981 published a quote from him about the inspiration:
‘First He told me to make tombstones; then He told me to cut the figures. I do according to the wisdom of G-d. He gives me the mind and the hand, I suppose, and then I go ahead and carve these things.’
In 2011, I visited Mount Ararat cemetery in Nashville, though it’s known that very unfortunately all of Edmondson’s work is no longer extant there. Further, it’s no longer known where in the cemetery he is buried. Nashville dedicated a park in Edmondson’s honor a few years ago and commissioned Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley for sculptures.
In 1935, Sidney Hirsch, an art faculty member at George Peabody College for Teachers found Edmondson’s place and was intrigued, telling his friend Louise Dahl-Wolfe about it. She worked for Harper’s Bazaar and thought it worthy of a feature, but William Randolph Hearst did not want to feature it in the magazine. She showed pictures of the work to Alfred H. Barr Jr., director of MoMA, and William Edmondson became the first African American artist to have a solo show there, in 1937.
Besides angels and animals (one of his lions was sold by Christie’s in January 2017 at $511,500), he began to sculpt famous people like Eleanor Roosevelt. He even sculpted Sidney Hirsch at one point, and that piece is in the collection at Cheekwood. Note: though Cheekwood has many pieces of Edmondson’s art, they don’t keep it on permanent exhibit. Their current exhibit calendar is here.
As an aside, Sidney Hirsch himself was a renaissance man in his own right: he was a model for Auguste Rodin (!) and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. He served in the Navy. He studied ancient languages. He was a member of Vanderbilt’s Fugitives group of poets and other creatives (Robert Penn Warren was one member), and he was a playwright with varying degrees of success.
Edmondson achieved a certain amount of celebrity after the MoMA show, but had little interest in it, and cared less about the positive or negative criticism of his work. During his lifetime, the art never commanded appropriate market prices.
His ‘Boxer’ c. 1936 set a new world record for his work and for Outsider art when it sold for $785k in 2016 at Christie’s.
“Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” is slated for a Spring 2018 release, fundraising to complete it here:
The signs, the sculptures, the woodwork, the ephemera, the furniture, the paintings, the photography…just this incredible all-encompassing (or as all-encompassing as one can wish for) look at Christenberry’s world…
“The Palmist Building is in my consciousness, has been most of my life as far as I can remember. It was on the way in the forks of the road, literally between grandparents’ houses — grandparents Smith and Christenberry — so we’d have to pass it. Especially when we lived in Tuscaloosa, we’d make that trek almost, if not every, weekend to visit one or both of these families. It was a general store run by my great-uncle, Sydney Duncan, my father’s mother’s brother — she was a Duncan… Then my next recollection was it becoming the Palmist Building.” — Bill Christenberry, cited in catalogue ‘William Christenberry ART & Family’ at the Ogden, 2000
Tornado Table, 2016
Providence Church, 1976
Southern Tree, November 20, 2004 — German ink on laid paper
Alabama Box, 1980
Entrance to B.F. Perkins’ place near Bankston, Alabama 1988
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.”
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):
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.
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.