Hayward Gallery’s outsider artists offer their Alternative Guide to the Universe
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Self-taught contributors include a Paris road sweeper with post-apocalyptic blueprints and a man who sculpts young girls
It has brought together mavericks and dreamers, re-imagined the worlds of culture and science, and might just be the most far-out art exhibition in recent memory. Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Hayward Gallery, said the ‘Alternative Guide to the Universe’ that opens on Tuesday salutes artists who “look at different possibilities”.
“We are going outside the parameters of the so-called art world,” he said. “We are going outside the parameters of the so-called outsider art world.”
Almost all the artists in the show are self-taught, and most would not consider what they have done as art. But much of it is incredible: the intricate and futuristic designs by Paris road sweeper Marcel Storr of how the city could be rebuilt after a nuclear catastrophe; the robots designed by a Chinese farmer called Wu Yulu, including a child robot in Londonable to chase people and clutch at their clothes.
Upstairs, examples of the work of Morton Bartlett veer, arguably, towards creepy, although Rugoff cautioned “creepiness can be in the mind of the beholder”. Bartlett, an American freelance photographer who died in 1992, spent much of his life creating a private, fantasy world by making child dolls and photographing them.
“I know in this climate we live in that an adult male who is making sculptures of young girls and photographing them, that we are automatically suspicious because we’ve been looking at headlines about abuse for six months now,” said Rugoff.
But there is a big difference between some of the recent horror stories, he said, and “someone who sublimates their desires and makes art out of it.”
Other photographers in the show include Eugene von Bruenchenhein, who was inspired by wartime images of Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable to take thousands of photographs of his wife in poses from domestic goddess to Hollywood pin-up; and Lee Godie, who lived homeless on the streets of Chicago and used photo booths to capture herself in almost endlessly different guises.
Godie is one of only two women in the show – a fact Rugoff admitted was a disappointment. “Maybe women are more down to earth,” he said.
Down to earth is not something you could accuse Alfred Jensen of, with his dazzling cosmological diagrams; or George Widener, described as a time traveller and calendar savant, who explores numerical patterns in the calendar over thousands of years; or Paul Laffoley – described by Rugoff as “the alternative Leonardo da Vinci” – whose work explores all sorts of things including communicating with intelligences in other dimensions.
The Hayward show comes at a time when interest in outsider art seems never to have been higher. An exhibition of Japanese outsider art – all of it made in mental health institutions and daycare centres – continues throughout June at the Wellcome Institute in London and the nomadic Museum of Everything, created in 2009, continues its wanderings.
The Museum of Everything, a regular fixture at Frieze art fair, celebrates “the undiscovered, the undefinable and the unclassifiable” and has welcomed more than 500,000 visitors at its various locations. For the next three months it will be in the Hayward’s project ppace presenting work by the Indian builder and sculptor Nek Chand, whose work featured in the first room of Exhibition #1, the museum’s inaugural show in Primrose Hill four years ago.
Rugoff said all the artists being shown “deserve to be saluted for the scope of their ambition. We live in a culture of experts, we tend to take things for granted and the curiosity we had as children gets stifled as we grow older.”
The search for exhibitors had taken curators in to all sorts of areas, including that of outsider physics. Rugoff said: “We are all focused on one art world but there are many art worlds and if you start to stroll around and trawl those art worlds there are many things that come up.”
He hopes the show will encourage visitors to think about things differently. “My most profound hope is that everyone can take their imagination off the leash a bit and realise there is no penalty for doing so.”
• Alternative Guide to the Universe is at the Hayward Gallery from 11 June to 26 August
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/jun/10/hayward-gallery-alternative-guide-to-the-universe Mark Brown Thanks for reading Jay
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