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Group shows based on the theme of “outsider art” are often tricky. Often, disparate artists are thrown together in a manner that does not seem cohesive, or they are so similarly grouped together as to not do justice to their individual technique.
“When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South,” is a rare exhibit that does not fall prey to either of these mistakes. Bound together by a social and racial “outsider” status, (African American artists reflecting on the site of the American South) the exhibition is unified by positionality rather than style.
The show brings together artists from multiple generations working in a variety of different media, many of whom are self-taught. Though diverse in their style and execution, a sense of balance emerges in the show. Benny Andrew’s sparse erotic ink drawings mirror the Courtesy the Artists’ inverted colored pencil drawings on paper. Frank Albert Jones and Henry Ray Clark, both of whom claimed to see spirits and otherworldly visions, produced colorful, prismatic drawings, while serving time in prison. Henry Speller’s raw erotic female portraits are juxtaposed with his wife, Georgia Speller’s, softer Matisse-esque paintings.
Most compelling are some of the artists’ stories, such as James “Son” Thomas, a gravedigger, musician and artist. His clay skull sculptures are displayed in the exhibition, each a grotesque reminder of the finality of death (most likely inspired by his occupation).
Contemporary emerging artists such as Ralph Lemon, whose haunting narrative photographs of African-Americans clad in animal masks, offer a more sinister yet striking aesthetic in this exhibition.
Also included are works by Kevin Beasley, McArthur Binion, Beverly Buchanan, Thornton Dial, Minnie Evans, Theaster Gates, Deborah Grant, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Bessie Harvey, David Hammons, Lonnie Holley, Lauren Kelley, Kerry James Marshall, Rodney McMillian, Joe Minter, J.B. Murray, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy, Marie “Big Mama” Roseman, Jacolby Satterwhite, Patricia Satterwhite, Rudy Shepherd, Xaviera Simmons, Stacy Lynn Waddell, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems and Geo Wyeth.
“When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South” closed at the Studio Museum in Harlem on June 29. It will travel to the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale from August 3 to October 12, 2014.