Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic at American Folk Art Museum


The art of Charles AA Dellschau from 1919.

The art of Charles AA Dellschau from 1919.

Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic unites more than two hundred and fifty works by twenty-one seminal and recently discovered self-taught artists, who will be introduced for the first time through the examination of the idiosyncratic structures of their lifelong, intricate narratives—notably, their sequential and developing aspects. Rare manuscripts, series of drawings, illustrated notebooks with coded texts, expanding cartography, journals, and multi-part collages will provide an art historical and pluridisciplinary perspective on the mechanisms behind visual storytelling.

The exhibition features the art of:

Jean-Daniel Allanche (1940, Tunisia–2015, France)



Josep Baqué (1895–1967, Spain)


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Ariane Bergrichter (1937, Germany–1996, Belgium)

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Josie Lipton Bryant (Twentieth Century, United States)

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Aloïse Corbaz (1886–1964, Switzerland)





Henry Darger (1892–1973, United States)

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James Edward Deeds, Jr. (1908–1987, United States)



Charles A. A. Dellschau (1830–1923, United States)

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Jean Fick (b. 1876, France)



Jerry Gretzinger (b. 1942, United States)



William A. Hall (b. 1943, United States)



Carlo Keshishian (b. 1980, United Kingdom)




Susan Te Kahurangi King (b. 1951, New Zealand)

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Paul Laffoley (1935–2015, United States)


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Malcolm McKesson (1909–1999, United States)

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Melvin Edward Nelson (1908–1992, United States)

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Jean Perdrizet (1907–1975, France)

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Achilles G. Rizzoli (1896–1982, United States)





Richard Saholt (1924–2014, United States)

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Agatha Wojciechowsky (1896, Germany–1986, United States)

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Adolf Wölfli (1864–1930, Switzerland)

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Installation views..

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opens January 21, 2018, at the American Folk Art Museum



(New York, NY, December 5, 2017) The exhibition Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic will be presented at the American Folk Art Museum from January 21 to May 27, 2018. Organized by Dr. Valérie Rousseau, curator, Self-Taught Art & Art Brut at the museum, the show considers the oeuvres of twenty-one self-taught artists for the first time through the idiosyncratic structure of their lifelong, intricate narratives. With its focus on the writing practice of the artists and the mechanisms behind their visual storytelling, this exhibition is framed as a sequel to Dr. Rousseau’s previous exhibition When the Curtain Never Comes Down (2015) which was devoted to performance art and the examination of art brut through a disciplinary perspective.

Vestiges & Verse brings together artworks by seminal artists (Aloïse Corbaz, Henry Darger, James Edward Deeds, Charles A. A. Dellschau, Paul Laffoley, Malcolm McKesson, Melvin Edward Nelson, Jean Perdrizet, Achilles G. Rizzoli, Agatha Wojciechowsky, Adolf Wölfli) and more recently discovered self-taught creators (Jean-Daniel Allanche, Josep Baqué, Ariane Bergrichter, Josie Lipton Bryant, Jean Fick, Jerry Gretzinger, William A. Hall, Carlo Keshishian, Susan Te Kahurangi King, Richard Saholt). The presentation will be complemented by digital publications, audio recordings, and short films.

Vestiges & Verse includes rare manuscripts, drawings conceived in series, illustrated diaries, an evolving imaginary map (Jerry Gretzinger), multi-part collages (Ariane Bergrichter), and journals with coded language—notably the Notebook of Automatic Writing by mediumistic artist Agatha Wojciechowsky who maintained that she created under the control of spirits. The exhibition will highlight recurrent motifs within the works, such as the use of inventories and detailed recordings of factual events. “This selection emphasizes the importance of considering the sequential, interconnected, and developing aspects of these oeuvres,” explained Dr. Rousseau. “Like vestiges and remnants embedded in larger and more voluminous oeuvres, these visual elements and notes are the foundations of ambitious narratives. They bring to mind the intricacy and often convoluted nature of epics. In our digital era, one can imagine that these peculiar bodies of works—which clashed with the sensibilities and norms of their time—could be seen as newfangled models for the present day.”

Among the works on display will be the fourteen volumes of Henry Darger’s epic The Realms of the Unreal—a 15,000-page manuscript that describes the adventures of the seven Vivian Girls, who fought an epic battle to free enslaved children from their adult captors. The volumes will be paired alongside Darger’s large-scale watercolors, revisiting the assumption that they are literal illustrations of his narrative. New research and findings about the sequencing of Darger’s watercolors within their original bindings will provide new insights on the artist’s creative process. Also included are historical masterpieces never-seen before in the United States.  They include the work of Swiss artists Aloïse Corbaz, whose 46-foot long scroll titled Le Cloisonné de Théâtre, was conceived as a theatrical play depicting the artist’s dramatic love story, and Adolf Wölfli, whose drawings and writings refer to a fictional travel adventure originating from his manuscripts titled “From the Cradle to the Grave” (1908—1912)—the first cycle of his longer 25,000-page narrative. Also on view are three rarely-seen, bound, illustrated manuscripts by Charles A. A. Dellschau, and sequential drawings once bound in his second volumes, forming the artist’s recollections of the secret activities of the Sonora Aero Club. In addition, there are the ultra-dynamic drawings of New Zealand artist Susan Te Kahurangi King that explore recurring characters like Donald Duck within a dissected and introspective perspective. Paul Laffoley’s manuscripts, addressing topics such as alchemy and utopia, will be paired with his large, diagrammatic canvases.

Vestiges & Verse will be a rare opportunity to consider the artworks of major self-taught and visionary artists through their progression and creative developments, and thus further our knowledge about the specifics of these practices,” said Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, executive director of the American Folk Art Museum. “Their reunion in the exhibition space,” she added, “will prove to be a revelatory experience and elucidate an understanding until then not fully captured.”

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, France, where a complementary selection of artists (Ferdinand Cheval, Nicolas Cirier, Henry Darger, Aimable Jayet, Frank Jones, Jim Kaliski, Joseph Lambert, Jean-Marie Massou, Francis Palanc, Sophie Podolski, Achilles G. Rizzoli, Theo Wiesen, Adolf Wölfli, Carlo Zinelli) is being presented until March 25, 2018, in an exhibition titled Les Refuges du Récit. Écritures, Langues et Mondes Imaginaires, curated by Savine Faupin and Christophe Boulanger.

Vestiges & Verse is accompanied by a generously illustrated publication, which contains an original essay by curator Dr. Valérie Rousseau, and contributed essays by noted writers and scholars including Elyse Benenson, Christophe Boulanger, Michael Bonesteel, Savine Faupin, Allison C. Meier, Rae Pleasant, Dr. Barbara Safarova, Dr. Béatrice Steiner, Laura Steward, and Aurélie Bernard Wortsman.

Major support for this exhibition is provided by Pro Helvetia.  Additional support is provided by the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Ford Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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About the American Folk Art Museum

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad. The museum preserves, conserves, and interprets a comprehensive collection of the highest quality, with objects dating from the eighteenth century to the present.