Gimme Some Art: Henry Darger, Asa Ames, and Olafur Eliasson, Oh My!

by JACQUELINE CHANCER · May 6, 2008

MoMa, Henry Darger, Asa Ames, Olafur Eliasson

And they are off. The tourist season has officially begun. Perhaps it was a poor choice on my part to go to the museum on a weekend, but when else is one going to have time to make money, while simultaneously attempting to culture themselves? If only there were more hours in the day… I wander…at least I wandered and stumbled upon 53rd Street, which was definitely the place to be this weekend. Despite the crowds and lines, the art was well worth the anxiety. First stop, the American Folk Art Museum. This little gem is certainly a diamond in the rough, many times overshadowed by its more popular neighbor (the MoMA). Quiet and calm amid the din outside, the museum puts on its first exhibition featuring contemporary artists, all of whom somehow derive inspiration or direct influence from the 20th-century outsider artist Henry Darger.

The exhibition juxtaposes pages from Darger's 145-page masterpiece, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion with contemporary artwork of all mediums. With his mélange of Huckleberry Finn and the cute Coppertone baby with a sprinkling of the Amazons, Darger weaves an intricate alternate reality with his delicate drawings and watercolors. The images are raw and unfinished; there is a childish quality in his pencil marks, which highlights a refusal to embrace reality and a burning desire to stay in Neverland.

Darger's work struggles to tackle issues of abuse, innocence and youth. There are many noticeable mentions amongst this new generation of artists, including photographer Justine Kurland and artist Amy Cutler. Like Darger, they attempt to create these fantastic, idyllic dream-like worlds. But, they lack the grandness and imperfection of Darger's pencil, which made him legendary. Upstairs, one is greeted by the eerie sculpture portraits of Asa Ames. Though he had a rather short life dying of consumption by 27, Ames compiled an impressive oeuvre of wooden sculptures, a rather unpopular medium for his purposes during the time (only ship makers fancied wood). Like Geppetto, Ames breathes life into his wooden busts.

Next door at the MoMA , the Olafur Eliasson exhibition was surprisingly empty. The Danish-Icelandic artist's focus on space and light were a refreshing respite from the crowds outside. The artwork is not visual per se, but rather induces an experience that begins first visually. The 360? room for all colours (2002) in a wide, circular space whose drastic shifts in color prompt an emotional response. His Moss Wall (1994) is kitschy cool, and actually woven entirely of wood and moss. It almost appears like a shag rug from the 1970s plastered upon the wall. With its flesh color that almost matches the white of the normal wall, this subdued piece almost escapes the spectator if they aren't paying attention. Eliasson provides alternate way of looking at art; art is not merely a physical thing but rather a feeling an artist evokes. Check them out before it's too late…