One of the bigger museum tragedies of recent years was the closing of the American Folk Art Museum's midtown location. The beautiful, modernist building was large enough to display a significant portion of the museum's permanent collection with multiple galleries for temporary exhibits. With the loss of that home, the Folk Art Museum moved into an undersized space near Lincoln Center, leaving little room for permanent displays. Nevertheless, the same frontier pioneer ingenuity that inspired many of the works in the collection permeates the museum and the creatively curated exhibits that rotate through its free galleries. Exhibits are a refreshing change from formal, highbrow, or modernist galleries found elsewhere in the city.
Art teaches us to look into objects. Folk Art allows us to look outward from within objects
What You Will See
Folk Art is easier to identify than to define. Think county fair art contest. Or rural estate sale. Quilts, samplers, panel paintings. But the scope of the museum's collection extends well beyond frontier America decorative arts. Art brut produced by contemporary artists occupies an increasing portion of the collection. Unfortunately, with the 2011 closing of the museum's spacious midtown building, the museum currently has little space for permanent displays. Instead, the museum focuses on temporary exhibits that rotate frequently throughout the year. Only with repeated visits can guests get an accurate sense of the scope and vision of this unique institution.
Why You Should Go
On an island overflowing with works by some of mankind's greatest artistic minds, a museum dedicated to the untrained amateur may not seem like the obvious choice for a day of art exploration. But this is exactly why the Folk Art Museum is a necessary piece of New York's museum landscape. Other museums feature highly-trained, practiced, professional artists. At times it can be difficult to separate the technical training (or patron-pleasing) from the inspiration of the muse. The Folk Art museum strips away the training, the technique, and the marketing motive. Art here is truly ars gratia artis, created with whatever medium is available just to ease the artist yearning within. It may not be Rembrandt or Warhol, but it is art.
The American Folk Art Museums dedicates its spring exhibition to the vast varieties of the American Experience. Selections from its permanent collection tell the story of Founders, Travelers, Philosophers, and Seekers. Central to the exhibition is the gathering of Possum Trot Dolls, carved and dressed by Calvin and Ruby Black in the 1950s. Quilts, of course, line the walls, with the interesting addition of a quilt-like sculpture made from recovered wood in Louisana. This is a great time to discover--or re-discover--American Folk Art.
Despite the tiny size of this single-wall exhibit, you could spend hours appreciating the variety and intricacy of the works on display. Housed in one large wall-mounted case are dozens of works drawn from the museum's vast collection. From paintings to sculptures to repurposed found objects, it is a stunning array of folk art styles and includes works by Henry Darger and Judith Scott. The exhibit will just make you wish the museum had more gallery space for its fascinating collection.