American Folk Art Museum
|American Folk Art Museum|
American Folk Art Museum
|Established||June 23, 1961|
|Location||2 Lincoln Square , Manhattan, New York, USA|
|Director||Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice|
|Public transit access||Subway: 1, 66 Street - Lincoln Center; Buses: M5, M7, M11, M20, M66, M104|
The American Folk Art Museum is an art museum in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at 2, Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street. It is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad.
Its collection holds over 5,000 objects from the 18th century to the present. These works span both traditional folk arts and the work of contemporary self-taught artists and European Art Brut. In its ongoing exhibitions, educational programming, and outreach, the museum showcases the creative expressions of individuals whose talents developed without formal artistic training.
Admission is free. In 2013, the museum had record attendance with over 100,000 visitors.
Since receiving a provisional charter in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum has continually expanded its mission and purview. At its inception, the museum lacked a permanent collection, an endowment, and a building. Despite lacking these institutional fixtures, founding Trustees Joseph B. Martinson and Adele Earnest had a vision: the advancement of the understanding and appreciation of American folk arts. In the museum’s fifty-year history, this dedication has held true. The museum’s evolving mission reflects the shifting understanding of American folk art in the contemporary American society.
The Museum of Early American Folk Arts, as it was known initially, held its first exhibition in a rented space on 49 West 53rd Street in 1961. The museum’s collection was launched in 1962 with the gift of a gate in the form of an American flag, celebrating the nation’s centennial. The gift reflected the museum’s early focus on eighteenth and nineteenth-century vernacular arts from the northeast America.
In 1966, after receiving a permanent charter, the museum expanded its name and mission. As the Museum of American Folk Arts, it looked beyond the traditional definitions of American folk art. Its exhibitions and collection began to reflect “every aspect of the folk arts in America – north, south, east, and west.” Founding curator, Herbert W. Hemphill Jr., “expanded the notion of folk art beyond traditional, utilitarian, and communal expressions.” Under his direction, the museum began to champion idiosyncratic and individualistic artwork from the fields of traditional and contemporary folk art. In doing so, the museum ushered in a new era in the field of twentieth-century folk art.
The 1990s brought new focus to the diversity and multiculturalism of American folk art. Offering a more inclusive vision, the museum began to present African American and Latino artworks in their exhibitions and permanent collections. Director Gerard C. Wertkin announced American folk art’s common heritage as “promoting an appreciation of diversity in a way that does not foster ethnic chauvinism or racial division.”
The museum further established its broadened outlook with the 1998 formation of the Contemporary Center, a division of the museum devoted to the work of 20th and 21st century self-taught artists, as well as non-American artworks in the tradition of European art brut. In 2001, the museum opened the Henry Darger Study Center to house twenty-four of the self-taught artist’s works, as well as a collection of his books, tracings, drawings, and source materials.
In 2001, the museum chose its current name, American Folk Art Museum. Recognizing that American folk art could only be fully understood in an international context, the word American functions as an indication of the museum’s location, emphasis, and principal patronage rather than as a limitation on the kind of art it collects, interprets, or presents. The museum’s current programming reflects this shift in focus. Past exhibits have included folk arts of Latin America, England, Norway, among other countries and continents.
As the museum’s mission developed, so did its effort to establish a permanent home. In 1979, the Museum’s Board of Trustees purchased two townhouses on West 53rd street, adjacent to Museum’s rented quarters at 49 West 53rd Street. In 1984, while waiting to develop the West 53rd properties, the museum continued to organize exhibitions and educational programs from a former carriage house at 125 west 55th Street. Five years later, a new branch of the museum, the Eva and Morris Feld Gallery, opened at 2 Lincoln Square, opposite Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In 2001, a new building on the 45 and 47 West 53rd Street was inaugurated. Tod Williams & Billie Tsien designed the building. From 2001 to 2011, the midtown space served as the museum’s main branch. However, facing increasingly high bond payments, the museum sold the midtown branch to the nearby Museum of Modern Art. Following the sale, the American Folk Art Museum returned to its previous home at 2, Lincoln Square, where it is currently located.
Standing as “one of New York City’s great treasures,” the museum’s 5,000 plus collection has been formed almost entirely through gifts. Spanning a wide variety of mediums, the collection includes over 1,200 paintings on canvas or panel, 1,500 drawings and works on paper, one thousand sculptural objects, one thousand textile items, two hundred ceramic objects, one hundred pieces of furniture, three hundred decorated household items from the Historical Society of Early American Decoration, and two large-scale architectural models.
Additionally, the museum has a large collection of archives, artist files, films, recordings, photographs, original research, historical records, and other assorted and valuable ephemera. Most notably, the museum holds the largest collection of archival materials from self-taught artists, Henry Darger.
The collection ranges from early portraits by Sheldon Peck, Ammi Phillips, and Samuel Addison Shute and Ruth Whittier Shute, quilts and schoolgirl needlework, furniture, and weathervanes to works by acclaimed masters such as Thornton Dial, Morris Hirshfield, Martín Ramírez, Judith Scott, Mary T. Smith and Bill Traylor.
The museum continues to add to its growing collection. In February 2014, it announced the acquisition of both traditional folk art and works by the self-taught. A version of Edward Hicks’ (1780-1849) famed ''The Peaceable Kingdom'' entered the collection. Notably, this painting, which Hicks gave to his daughter, remained with Hicks’s descendants for many years. Achilles Rizzoli’s (1896-1981) architectural portrait, Mother Symbolically Represented/The Kathredal, was also donated to the museum.
Selected Collection Highlights
Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, 1829–1831
Each year, the museum mounts a number of exhibitions, which span from the traditional folk arts to the more contemporary “self-taught” expressions. The museum’s exhibits frequently examine the works of a specific artist or the significance of a particular medium, such as quilts or tinsel paintings.
Through its exhibits, the museum continues to develop the understanding of folk and self-taught artists. Past exhibits have showcased the works of “undersung” masters, like Thomas Chambers and Asa Ames. Additionally, the museum has hosted solo exhibitions dedicated to the work of self-taught greats: Martín Ramírez, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Bill Traylor. By raising these artists from the periphery of the mainstream art world, the exhibits have promoted the enduring significance of folk and self-taught art.
Past exhibits have also positioned traditional folk art in conversation with more contemporary art. In the museum’s 2008 exhibit, “The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips/ Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red” explored the visual connections between Rothko’s famed color blocks and Phillip’s heightened color palette. In 2013, the museum invited thirteen fashion designers to create an original work, inspired by a piece in their collection. The resulting exhibit “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art” ran from January 21 – April 23, 2014.
By raising traditional folk artists and self-taught artists from the periphery of the mainstream art world, the museum has continued to prove "the worth of instinctive, self-taught artistry."
Stacy C. Hollander is the museum’s chief curator and director of exhibitions. She has been at the institution since 1985 and has held her current position since 1992. Since joining the museum in 2013, Dr. Valérie Rousseau has served as the curator of 20th century and contemporary art.
In June 2013, the museum received a donation of $1.6m from the Henry Luce Foundation as part of its 75th anniversary initiative to create a national traveling exhibition of masterworks from the museum's collection. The exhibition, Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum, featuring more than 100 works of art, will consider the changing implications of self-taught in the United States. From May 13 through August 17, 2014, the exhibition will be on view at the Museum. Following its New York premiere, the exhibition will travel to six cities. The exhibit will be at the following institutions on these dates: Figge Art Museum: November 15, 2014 – March 15, 2015; Mingei International Museum: April 18-August 16, 2015; Amon Carter Museum of American Art: October 10, 2015 – January 3, 2016; New Orleans Museum of Art: February 26-May 22, 2016; Saint Louis Art Museum: June 19-September 11, 2016; Tampa Museum of Art: October 1, 2016 – January 8, 2017.
The following is a list of the museum's exhibitions since 2010:
|Women Only: Folk Art by Female Hands||April 6–Oct. 24, 2010|
|The Private Collection of Henry Darger||April 6–Oct. 24, 2010|
|Perspectives: Forming the Figure||August 24, 2010 – July 8, 2011|
|Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum||October 5, 2010 – July 8, 2011|
|Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: ‘Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Innovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher||November 4, 2010–July 8, 2011|
|Henry Darger: The Certainties of War||November 4, 2010–July 8, 2011|
|Super Stars: Quilts from the American Folk Art Museum||November 16, 2010–December 18, 2011|
|Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts||March 25–30, 2011|
|The Lost Heroes Art Quilt||April 19–26, 2011|
|Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined||January 17–September 2, 2012|
|Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions||June 20, 2012–March 31, 2013|
|Foiled: Tinsel Painting in America||September 12, 2012–January 13, 2013|
|Ooh, Shiny!||September 12, 2012–January 13, 2013|
|Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed||January 24–May 26, 2013|
|Women’s Studies||January 24–May 26, 2013|
|Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts||June 11–September 22, 2013|
|Traylor in Motion: Wonders from New York Collections||June 11–September 22, 2013|
|alt_quilts: Sabrina Gschwandtner, Luke Haynes, Stephen Sollins||October 21, 2013–January 5, 2014|
|Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art||January 21–April 23, 2014|
Every month, the museum holds a number of concerts, workshops, and lectures, which are all open to the public. Every Wednesday afternoon, jazz guitarist Bill Wurtzel and guest musicians perform live at the museum from 2 to 3pm. The museum also holds free live music concerts on Friday afternoons from 5:30 to 7:30pm. On select Thursdays the museums hosts “hands-on workshops and discussions with leaders from the DIY community.”
The museum’s gallery guides offer weekly “Closer-Look Tours" of ongoing exhibitions. On the first Thursday of every month, for "Folk Art Reflections," the museum invites individuals living with Alzheimer's and related dementias and their family members or care partners to participate in meaningful conversation about folk art.
Additionally, surrounding the launch of a new exhibition, the museum hosts full-day symposia, where it invites thinkers from a variety of disciplines to discuss broader themes and questions related to an exhibition. Past symposia include: Bill Traylor: Beyond the Figure, Asa Ames: Talks in 3D, and Culture in Context: Self-Taught Artists in the Twenty-First Century. On May 12, 2014, the museum will host Self-Taught Genius: A Full-Day Symposium. Intellectuals, scholars, and artists will discuss the evolving relationship between "genius" and the concept of "self-taught."
For its Teen Docent Program, American Folk Art Museum teaches NYC high school juniors and seniors about the museum’s collections as well as careers in the arts through extended observation of exhibitions, hands-on activities, in-depth conversations, private curatorial tours, panel discussions, artist talks, and exchanges with other museum teen councils. Students gain public speaking and research skills, as well as work collaboratively to design their own tours of the museum based upon themes they develop together.
In December 2013, the American Folk Art Museum launched a fully accessible digital archive of 117 issues of its in-house magazine, Folk Art, formerly known as The Clarion. From winter 1971 to fall 2008, Folk Art, was published on average of three times a year. It served as a leading forum for original research and new scholarship in the field of American folk art. Topics ranged from traditional arts, such as portraiture, schoolgirl arts, painted furniture, and pottery, to original discourses on under-recognized artists.
In 2007, it was among over 530 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2013, the Encyclopedic Palace, in the Museum’s collection, served as the inspiration and theme for the 55th installation of the international Venice Biennale. Marino Auriti (1891-1980), a self-taught Italian American artist, created the work as an architectural model for imaginary museum that would house all worldly knowledge. Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the Biennale, detailed the enduring relevancy of Auriti’s work. “Today, as we grapple with a constant flood of information, such attempts to structure knowledge into all-inclusive systems seem even more necessary and even more desperate.” 
Cited as one of the “World’s Best Museum Gift Shops,” the museum’s gift shop offers an extensive array of gift items, handcrafted in the folk tradition, such as jewelry, personal accessories, frames, toys, objects for the home, as well as a large section of note cards, books, and catalogs.
In Popular Reference
- For more information about the history of the American Folk Art Museum, see Gerard C. Wertkin, "Foreword," in Stacy C. Hollander and Brooke Davis Anderson, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001), pp. 10–13.
- Folk Art, Summer 2001, 21.
- Brooke Davis Anderson, "The Contemporary Collection: Through The Lens of Language," American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: -, 15).
- Folk Art
- name="nyt-2011-05-10">Taylor, Kate (2011-05-10). "MoMA to Buy American Folk Art Museum Building". The New York Times.
- Roberta Smith, "Everyday Treasures Gaze Out to Sea," The New York Times, August 2, 2012
- Roberta Smith, “As Folk Art Museum Teeters, a Huge Loss Looms,” The New York Times, September 19, 2011
- Roberta Smith, “As Folk Art Museum Teeters, a Huge Loss Looms,” The New York Times, September 19, 2011
- Roberts, Sam (2005-07-06). "New York Times: City Groups Get Bloomberg Gift of $20 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- Folk Art (formerly The Clarion). Magazine published 1971–2008 by the American Folk Art Museum.
- Anderson, Brooke Davis. Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum. New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
- Anderson, Brooke Davis. Martín Ramírez. Seattle: Marquand Books in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2007. A New York Times Notable Book.
- Hollander, Stacy C. American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum. New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
- Hollander, Stacy C., and Brooke Davis Anderson. American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
- Warren, Elizabeth V. Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. New York: American Folk Art Museum in association with Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2010.
- Zimiles, Murray. Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel. With a foreword by Gerard C. Wertkin and an essay by Vivian B. Mann. Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press in association American Folk Art Museum, 2007. Winner of the 2007 National Jewish Book Award, Visual Arts.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to American Folk Art Museum.|
- American Folk Art Museum official website
- List of recent American Folk Art Museum exhibitions
- List of upcoming American Folk Art Museum exhibitions
- Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects official website
- "Debt Problem Has Museum Scrambling" Kate Taylor, The New York Times, 2010-08-08