Paran of Beat Circus recently told me about an exhibit at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln called "The Old, Weird America". Their website states it is "the first museum exhibition to explore the widespread resurgence of
folk imagery and mythic history in recent art from the United States." The title was borrowed from Greil Marcus' 1997 book about the influence of folk music on Bob Dylan and the Band's album "The Basement Tapes". Part of the exhibit showcased Harry Smith's "Anthology of Folk Music" with the original liner notes and a listening booth.
I found some of the works to be rather heavy-handed and preachy, unsubtle lashing out at the Iraq War and the religious right. Other pieces, such as Deborah Grant's acrylic on birch panel tiles "Where Good Darkies Go" were exceptional pieces of Americana storytelling.
Kara Walker's film "8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America" was showing in a dark room with a sign out front warning adults with children about "controversial themes and explicit subject matter". We brought Alexander along and this woman walking out turns to me as we're about to walk in, "This is *really* explicit". She seemed rather horrified by it. I'm often as interested in people's reactions to the work as I am the work itself. There was an elderly couple in there and about halfway through one of the films the man turns to the woman and says "I'm ready to go when you are". Much to his dismay, she says "I want to see the rest of it."
The film was in 8 parts. I didn't make it through all 8 parts as Alexander was getting restless, but I saw a challenging and thought-provoking comment on race stereotypes in America, all within Walker's surreal, dreamlike world of black cut-paper siluhouettes. It was cast in the spirit of dark Southern Gothic storytelling with late 1920s jazz such as King Oliver's "Call of the Freaks" playing throughout. Recently I'd been reading a lot about 1920s jazz and I couldn't help finding parallels between this and Leroi Jones's "Blues People: Negro Music in White America" as I was watching it.
For those in the Boston area, I'd recommend seeing the exhibit. It runs through September 7th; more information at the DeCordova website.