The mighty “Strange Case of Henry Darger”

Know the work of Henry Darger?   Well last weekend, the paintings, collages, drawings and mad musings of this reclusive, compulsive man came alive through a play by Judith Kampfner.  It was just a reading of The Strange Case of Henry Darger and only of excerpts at that, yet utterly engrossing.  We got a glimpse into the mind whose phantasmagoria of children, monsters, soldiers, and recurring visions of the crucifix are embodied in the hundreds upon hundreds of works Darger left behind.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 12.07.45 PMThe worlds Darger depicts are in turn lyrical, disturbing, sweet and violent, and in the play we see the man summoning them with the intensity of a person struggling  to do what comes so easily to others: relate — to people, fears, a news story,  beauty, horror, God.  It is art not for art’s sake, but for living’s sake and he goes about it as relentlessly as he breathes.

This comes through beautifully in Kampfner’s play and, the next day, standing before pieces on display at the Outsider Art Fair, the collages and paintings compelled me like fragments of a rich and complex whole, snapshots brought back from a hallucinatory journey which Kampfner’s The Strange Case of Henry Darger conjured the day before.  No wonder the gatekeepers to Darger’s estate granted her permission.

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Ah, the beautiful world of craft art…

Celadon sculpture by Cliff Lee -- all but the stems and the thorns are thrown on the wheel and, yes, when you hold it up to the light, the petals of the lilies are translucent.

Celadon sculpture by Cliff Lee — all but the stems and the thorns are thrown on the wheel and, yes, when you hold it up to the light, the petals of the lilies are translucent.

Great to dip back into the world of craft art — or whatever name you want to call first-rate works made in clay, glass, wood, metal,…  At the New York Ceramics and Glass Fair I reconnected with Cliff Lee, a ceramist whose work I had written about in 2010  for American Style.   Five years, I now realize, is a long time:  the Lees’  bounding dog Hunter has died, their cuddly three-legged cat has moved in with their son, and, just now, when I tried to link this blog to the article I wrote, all I got was a blank page.  American Style suspended publication about two years ago, and I am once again reminded of just how much I used to love writing for its great editor, Hope Daniels, and how much I love the world of ceramists, woodturners, glass-blowers.…

Pot by Cliff Lee with a lava glaze that has the frothiness of  sea foam.

Pot by Cliff Lee with a lava glaze that has the frothiness of sea foam.

Luckily some things don’t change — Cliff Lee’s work is as terrific as ever…

and I discovered the work of a potter I should have known but somehow had missed before, John Pagliaro.

Shadow boxes with pinch pots by John Pagliaro.

Shadow boxes with pinch pots by John Pagliaro 

Pinch pots by John Pagliaro on display at the NY Ceramics and Glass Fair

Pinch pots by John Pagliaro on display at the NY Ceramics and Glass Fair

Sitting in style

Having just written a story on how much the world around us has (and has not) changed since the passage of the American Disabilities Act (the story is out in this week’s Christian Science Monitor), I was thrilled that “Fashion Follows Form: Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 9.34.24 PMDesigns for Sitting” was still at the Royal Ontario Museum when I was up in Toronto last week.  The show features the work of Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri who some years ago expanded her line to include clothes designed for people who use wheelchairs.

It isn’t immediately clear when you first walk into the show just what the curator is up to — or maybe I had just had a long day and was slow to get it.  There was a tux for a groom with a jacket cut so that it would look its best when the wearer was seated, then a slinky evening dress for a woman who needed to be able to walk with grace while looking sexy, a 19th century outfit for women riding side saddle, and a top that best suited a bustle skirt…  What?

What it took me a while to see was that the show is placing designs for people with disabilities within the flow of history, not as some specialized (do-good) eddy.  The groom’s suit is just one among many examples that illustrates a core principle of fashion: the designer’s business is to respond to the needs and tastes of clients.  When women wanted to ride horses but convention dictated they do so sidesaddle, designers came up with outfits that would give them the comfort and mobility they needed to control their horse while also ensuring their decorum.

So it is with clients who want to wear clothes they like while sitting in a wheelchair.  The challenge there is simple — just ask any woman who has ever fussed with her skirt because she didn’t realize it was going to ride quite so high up her thigh or puff out quite so much at the stomach when she was sitting down; or any man who has ever looked down while seated and realized there was an inch of skin between sock and cuff; or anyone of either sex who has fidgeted in a plane because the back or his or her jacket was bunched up at the back.  We all know that what looks and feels good standing up doesn’t always feel and look good sitting down.

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That’s one of the facts of life Ms. Camilleri’s designs address.  Notice in the leather jacket below that there is a belt in the back that you can’t see from the front — someone who needs support to sit upright can get it without sacrificing their style.

Mannequin wearing leather jacket, seen from the front.

design by Izzy Camilleri

 

Mannequin wearing a hip leather jacket -- the back view shows that the sleeves are attached by zippers (to make it easier to remove and put on) , the back is cut out for comfort and a seat belt can slip over the wearer's waist under the jacket.

Notice that the sleeves are attached by zippers (to make it easier to remove and put on) , the back is cut out for comfort and a seat belt can slip over the wearer’s waist under the jacket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to read about the designs that a bright group at MIT came up with for clients with disabilities, check out also Bryan Cronan’s piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

 

 

 

 

A page turner indeed

One spread from ‘Returning Home’ (c. 1695) by Shitao, a Buddhist monk turned Daoist adept. The Metropolitan Museum of  Art

One spread from ‘Returning Home’ (c. 1695) by Shitao, a Buddhist monk turned Daoist adept. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hard to know whom to praise more:

– the Met curator who brings out what Chinese artists could do in an album that they could not in the traditional scroll formats

or

– the WSJ headline writer who captured this in four words: a real page-turner.

my review of The Art of the Chinese Album

An otherworldly experience

IMAG2219Human figures amid swirling geometrics.  Shields and spears and a looping tail whip.  Crouched men and women staring into — and from — eternity.  Colorful bursts of patterns conjuring at once life’s unbridled power and our fear-based need to appease and control it.  Empty masks and the steadying touch of a woman’s hand on a man’s shoulder.

Ritual horse-serpent with riggers from Flores, Indonesia on view at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Ritual horse-serpent with riders from Flores, Indonesia on view at the Yale University Art Gallery.

My mind was spinning at “East of the Wallace Line: Monumental Art From Indonesia and New Guinea” at Yale University Art Gallery.  You can read more about the show in my review in the WSJ.

Korwar figures from western New Guinea at Yale university Art

Korwar figures from western New Guinea at Yale university Art

Bronze statue of Shiva dancing, the source of all movement

Shiva Nataraja – Chola period (900-13th Century). Bronze; 111.5 x 101.65 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1930.331 @Clevelend Museum of Art.

Some 20 years ago when we visited a temple in South India, a brahmin led us into a small side shrine with a large statue of Shiva as Nataraja.  The only light was the oil lamp he carried with a single flame.  Anyone familiar with ‘aarthi’ will know what I mean.  Basically, the priest draws circles in the air before the statue with the lamp.  In a dark space, this means that that the light picks out a raised leg, then an arm, the head, flames on the aura,…  As parts of the statue take turns emerging from the darkness and sinking back into it,  Shiva’s cosmic dance comes alive.

At night, in the glassed-in gallery of the Cleveland Museum of Art, my mind returned to that visit to the temple and now, months after I reviewed the museum’s new Asian galleries, the memory returns.  Behind the Nataraja, dissipating into the Cleveland night, were the ghostly reflections of other statues in the gallery, all gods.

 

 

 

Peering inside Myanmar’s earliest stupas

Khin Ba Relic Chamber Cover lent to the Met for "Lost Kingdoms" by Thiri Khittaya (Śrī Ksetra) Archaeological Museum, Hmawza, Myanmar (Photo: Thierry Ollivier)

Khin Ba Relic Chamber Cover lent to the Met for “Lost Kingdoms” by Thiri Khittaya (Śrī Ksetra) Archaeological Museum, Hmawza, Myanmar (Photo: Thierry Ollivier)

This time-worn cover of a relic chamber is another mesmerizing work on display At the Met in “Lost Kingdoms.”   It was found inside a stupa at Sri Ksetra, a 1,500-year old site we visited in 2012.  It is in ruinous state, so much so the World Monuments Fund added it to its endangered list.  But it has lost none of its appeal for monks who come to pray in small shrines and circumambulate the towering stupas.© Lee Lawrence 2012

Sri Ksetra  when we visited in 2012 on a gray day during monsoon season

One of the surviving stupas in Sri Ksetra when we visited in 2012 on a gray day during monsoon season

And if you’re wondering how anyone ever recovered the cover to the relic chamber deep inside a brick structure like this one…
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