Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, Director of the American Visionary Art Museum, is energized: “This is our first major show with all our artists still alive,” she explained, and many of them were having a good time schmoozing with each other, there for the opening weekend. They came from as far away as Cuba, and as close as Fells Point.
The AVAM is a mother lode of whimsy in the heart of Baltimore. Its contents are the physical embodiment of the Ig Nobel Awards’ motto: to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The exhibit is organized into serious categories: Food and Climate, Food as a Weapon of War, Fat – and then each section is filled with surprise and delight.
At the media preview tour of Yummm! The History, Fantasy and Future of Food, I learned something right away – that the cutouts at the corners of signs for restaurants, that have always seemed like just a nice decorative element, derive from the ancient practice of leaving the corners of fields unharvested for the benefit of poor gleaners.
Then along the hallway, vintage lunchboxes were mounted over a display of Post Secrets, leading up to one of the exhibit’s showstoppers.
Wendy Brackman’s Brackman’s Botanical Bonanza! is a wall-filling, revolving mandala made from paper plates. Wendy was there to explain how she developed her craft making paper-plate art for parties. Like many visionary artists, she was unsure that what she does can be considered worthy of a museum, but Rebecca assured her that “at AVAM you are an artist!” I don’t think anyone would disagree.
In discussing Judy Tallwing’s painting of the Corn Maiden, a goddess revered throughout the Southwest for giving the people a staple of their diet, Rebecca described how art can be at the forefront of environmental activism. A previous painting of Judy’s helped stop a pipeline through pristine rain forest. And, speaking of corn, Americans now have more corn in their hair, by chemical analysis, than Mexicans. Corn and corn products are ubiquitous in our diet.
Bobby Adams spoke about his small constructions focusing on the male body image. He has had a long struggle with obesity, and relates that to American diet. The museum is showing Sugarman, a film he made with Steve Parker, adapted from Bobby’s essay on the insidious role of added sugar.
The walls of the exhibit are decorated with food-related aphorisms. I think this one is my favorite:
There were several large-scale works. The seven-foot-tall Swpeepish Chef, artist Christian Twamley explained, was made with four thousand Peeps for the Carroll County Arts Center’s Easter Peep Show. Camilla the chicken approved.
Book-ending the large room, and creepily echoing the Chef, a life-size sculpture of Wayne Coyne, of the psychedelic rock band Flaming Lips, loomed menacingly from his Plexiglas bubble. A bilious green, he was as scary as the chef was comforting, and made entirely of Gummy candy.
It’s possible that Rebecca had some second thoughts about having the artists along on the tour when Jerry Beck gave us fifteen minutes of stand-up comedy/description of his work bringing art to inner-city kids through bread-related works. By the time we reluctantly had to move on from the 2016 Community Bread Art Wall Project, we had heard many stories about his life, art and family. My favorite was his Nana winning the Miami Jewish Museum’s Yeast of Eden contest with a six-foot chopped-liver alligator.
So many artworks! And only one which admittedly made my gorge rise, if only just a little: a video of a man knitting meat. Knitted Steak is just what it sounds like, for 34 seconds. Is it because of a juxtaposition of unexpected elements? Like Lady Gaga’s meat dress, it provokes discomfort by flauting convention.
We joined some of the artists and docents for lunch upstairs in the museum restaurant, Encantada. I had an overwhelmingly large portabella on a bun (I had to use a knife and fork, it was too big and messy to pick up), with irresistible sweet potato fries. Afterwards, they kindly opened the terrace so we could get a close-up look at the giant whirligig in the courtyard.
The exhibit is open until September 3, 2017. There is a wonderful accompanying catalog produced by Matt Craft. Go see it, and be provoked, amused, and sated.