The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore dedicates itself to showing art by self-taught individuals. They describe in detail what visionary art is in their mission statement, but basically, it boils down to something like folk art, only by people who seem to be either: crazy; on drugs; in jail; or just kind of weird. The descriptions of the lives of the artists which accompany their work are sometimes more interesting than the actual work itself. The artists primarily have taught themselves, and often don't even think they make art. Each show the museum puts on is based on a central theme. The current show, "Love: Error and Eros," shows works that all have something to do, aptly enough, with love.
The first section, "True Love," was by far the sappiest. There were a lot of paintings of people holding hands and smiling. The coup de grace of this part of the show, a great big installation of embroidered stuff with lots of hearts all over it surrounding a big fancy wedding dress, pretty much summed it up.
Upstairs, the next section I came across was "Love Scorned." Now this was more like it. If there's one thing I like to see out of my visionary artists, it's bitterness. Another big installation stands out in this section, this one by the Reverend Royal Robertson. Seems Royal's wife Adele left him for another man, and he was none too pleased about it. So he took to painting signs warning of the evils of women and putting them up around his house and barn. The museum either recreated a shack or just dragged one from his property and chopped it in half, and hung a number of his signs all over it. One in particular that I enjoyed said, "Crazy like Adele? Then keep ass out!" Walking through the half-shack and reading all the biblical quotations the Rev used to prove his point gave me a small case of the willies. The rest of the section was filled with work by others who loved but were just not loved back.
Next up was "Love Profane." Basically, the artists in this section got love all mixed up with craziness and frustration. Gerard Lattier painted creepy looking scenes that were accompanied by equally creepy stories in French. I could never figure out, despite the translations on the wall, if the stories were some kind of twisted fairy tales or took place solely in Gerard's mind, nor how exactly what they had to do with love. No matter though, because they looked amazing. This section featured by far the most disturbing images - lots of stabbings and blood everywhere.
"Love Divine" contained works expressing various kinds of spiritual love. Alex Grey painted incredibly detailed renderings of the human body, sans skin, in painfully bright colors, and usually accompanied by light shooting out of people's eyes or brains. These could easily have been used by Pink Floyd for album-cover art. The day I went, there was a swap meet of sorts in the Sculpture Barn, next to the regular museum building, so the giant balloon by Leonard Knight, which he created to express his love to God was nowhere to be found.
Finally, on the very top floor, was "Love Lost." Unlike scorned love, lost love in this show meant that the object of affection had died, not just taken off to get away from the crazy person doing the loving. Part of the famous AIDS quilt had been loaned to the museum for this part of the show. I breezed through most of this section, but one thing in particular which caught my eye was a collection of these tiny little embroidered works about 3 inches square. They contained more detail in the tiny space than I could possibly achieve even given the whole side of a barn. Even more fantastic was the fact that the squares were composed completely out of threads from socks.
In comparison to the other shows I have seen at the Visionary Art Museum, "Love: Error and Eros" did not particularly astound me. Still, if you are in Baltimore, or even near enough for a short trip, it is definitely worth a visit.
Love: Error and Eros will be around until May 30, 1999
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