At “Super-Rough,” a sculpture exhibition presented by the Outsider Art Fair and guest curated by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, materials come first. In his title for the show, Murakami acknowledges its almost diametrically opposed spirit to Superflat, a 21st-century Pop art movement—of which Murakami is the primary theorist and practitioner—influenced by Japan’s postwar consumer culture. Superflat artists reflect and appropriate the aesthetics of our mediated worlds, hoping to subvert them (though ironically, the work of artists like Murakami and Kaws typically makes for great merch); the artists in “Super-Rough” dive into the essential with forms unclouded by a mediated gaze.
There is nothing in this exhibition to remind one of the hyperreality of the screen, or of the slick surfaces of consumer goods. Human and animal bodies are reimagined in ways that are sometimes disturbing, but never less than astonishing. Found materials, from buttons and dolls to wood, wire, glue, and yarn, are repurposed to extraordinary effect. Root Carved Dog by an unknown artist, for example, is a creature with body made out of a twisted root and a face embellished with glass eyes. This is a dog of dreams.
Root Carved Dog is only one of 250 works displayed on a single gigantic pedestal running down the center of the gallery or along three of the room’s walls. To see the others, visit the show before it closes this Sunday.
“Super-Rough” selected by Takashi Murakami in collaboration with participating Outsider Art Fair dealers and gallerists, is currently on view through June 27. Outsider Art Fair, 150 Wooster Street, New York, (212) 337-3338. For directions, hours, and tickets, visit outsiderartfair.com.
Images from the show follow below.
John Foxell (1944–2016), a Staten Island native, witnessed the events of 9/11 at close range from his Lower Manhattan office. After being diagnosed with PTSD, he was encouraged to make art to work through his trauma. He began making collages and sculptures based on the news, though he often edited it too, arranging disparate items to convey alternate realities. Made of newspaper clippings, stickers, ribbons, pencils, and plastic objects, Foxell’s works are assemblage art for our time.
Gil Batle (b. 1962) spent 20 years in and out of jail, mostly for fraud and forgery. The last time he was released from prison, his parole officer suggested he move to the island in the Philippines where his father’s family was from. Here, he began carving images of prison life into ostrich eggs. In an artist’s statement, Batle writes, “I actually have to go back (mentally) to prison to capture that feel of being inside that place . . . It’s a relief of gratitude when I look up from the egg and I’m reminded that . . . I’m not in there anymore.”
Yumiko Kawai (b. 1979) makes her embroidered fabric works at Atelier Yamanami, an art center in Shiga, Japan, for the mentally disabled. With small, neat stitches and working from the outside in, she creates circles of varying sizes. As she layers stitch upon stitch, the circles transform, gaining height until they become breastlike cones.
Raimundo Borges Falcão
Every year, Brazilian artist Raimundo Borges Falcão (b. unknown, c. late 1940s) spends the whole year collecting materials for his Carnival costume. Pieces of found fabric are carefully sewn together with seashells, beads, necklaces, and paper to make his headdresses, fans, and body pieces. These costumes frequently reference Yemanjá, the Yoruba goddess of oceans, who is sometimes referred to as “Mother of the Waters.” Falcão’s works can not only be seen as fabric art but as altars covered with offerings.
During the early 20th century in Black communities in the Southern United States, memory jugs were often made to memorialize deaths. Containers like jugs, tea kettles, cigar boxes, and salt shakers would be covered with cement, into which objects such as toys, coins, shells, rocks, and jewelry would be added. The makers of the jugs here are unknown.
A trailer-park employee and part-time grave digger from Oneonta, New York, John Byam (1929–2013) made miniature sculptural works from scraps of wood, glue, and sawdust. Usually, these pieces represented everyday objects—a chair, desk, traffic light, helicopter, camera tank, or rocket—or figures, including one image of the Statue of Liberty. At times Byam would add some ink or paint, as on a sculpture of a house with its entrance labeled “front door.”
Sylvain and Ghyslain Staëlens
In 1996, the French couple Sylvain and Ghyslain Staëlens (b. 1968 and 1960) left Paris for the countryside of D’Auvergne in order escape a cycle of self-destruction they described as “dark-drugs-metro-work-metro-drugs-sleep”. In their new environment, they found the wood, cloth, roots, and discarded wire and metal that would become the materials for their “forest guardians.” “They protect us from our excess,” the pair says, “and require us to have a life of discipline.”
In the 1960s, Nek Chand (1924–2015), a transport official in the city of Chandigarh, India, cleared a patch of jungle and began filling it with concrete sculptures decorated with waste materials like broken glass and pottery. Since it was sited on protected forest, Chand’s visionary environment was wholly illegal, and authorities eventually discovered it in 1975. With public opinion on his side, Chand was able to convince them not only to preserve it, but to give him a workforce to expand it. His Rock Garden of Chandigarh is now a park spanning 25 acres and containing thousands of sculptures.
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
After the death of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983), thousands of artworks were found in his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They included oil paintings on cardboard, ceramic crowns and vessels, countless photos of his wife in costume, and tiny painted sculptures made from chicken bones. After a chicken dinner, Von Bruenchenhein would soak the leftover bones in ammonia, dry them in his oven, and glue them together to make towers and the miniature chairs that he referred to as thrones.