Editor’s Letter, July/August 2012

Elizabeth Pochoda

Elizabeth Pochoda Opinion

We have something to celebrate this summer in the resurgence of the American Folk Art Museum. Pronounced dead after selling its award-winning building on Fifty-ThirdStreet in Manhattan, the museum is noth­ing of the sort, as you will see in the articles grouped here under the rubric “Folk Art Rising.” At its tidy quarters on Lincoln Square, a smooth street-level entrance speeds you to the exhibition Jubilation/Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined, where objects from the collection by quilters, portraitists, and private obses­sives speak to each other in the American vernacular. It is an imaginative pairing of the practical and the visionary curated by Stacy C. Hollander, who joined the museum as an intern and is now as world class as the collection itself.

Looking back in 1933 on the heady years before World War I when she was among the first to discover the work of Picasso and Matisse, Gertrude Stein observed that “once everybody knows they are good the adventure is over.” That comment tells you something about a woman whose life’s work was as much as anything else the creation of her own cachet. By contrast, what impresses me about the American Folk Art Museum and folk art in general is that its adventure persists precisely because of its capacity to include rather than exclude. Jubilation/Rumination is a richly democratic exhibition, as is the museum’s current partnership with the South Street Seaport Museum for Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions-the story of the seaport from the perspective of the people who shopped, worked, and lollygagged there. I think Compass is a good model for future AFAM partner­ships, perhaps even one as nearby as the Brooklyn Bridge, which will emerge from four years in rehab in 2014 and is ripe for a show celebrating the unofficial art, graffiti, and folklore that surrounded its history as well as the messages of politics and love that cur­rently decorate the plywood and canvas along its construction site. Folk art is everywhere.

As is resurgence. The Barnes Foundation is back in a superb new building on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, architects, appropriately for our theme of resurgence, of AFAM’s former home. In his perverse version of populism Albert C. Barnes tried to keep his Renoirs, Van Goghs, and Cézannes away from the grandees of the Philadelphia art establishment, but he made no firm hierarchical distinction between the fine, decorative, and folk arts. Our three articles on the Barnes and Gavin Ashworth’s exceptional photographs of it do justice to an institution that is by turns both transcendent and, in the words of Greg Cerio, “alluringly odd.” I think that duality links the Barnes quite nicely to this issue’s celebratory mood.