A postage stamp is a small but mighty symbolic emissary from one particular nation to the rest of the world. A functioning postal service, made visible in stamps, is an unmistakable expression of national legitimacy. Throughout their history, stamps have been prized by collectors for their unique ability to represent a political culture in miniature. As a result, the postage stamp is an excellent vehicle for spurious, tenuous, or completely fictitious states to declare their existence.
In philatelic circles, such stamps are called bogus Cinderellas: “bogus” because the states represented are dubious, and “Cinderella” because they carry no real postal value. Most serious stamp collectors consider them illegitimate despite their extraordinary ability to conjure an entire nation on a tiny piece of paper. In short, bogus Cinderellas are the “outsiders” of the philatelic world.
This exhibition of five hundred bogus Cinderellas offers a glimpse into an alternative United Nations of twenty-five bogus states. They are largely drawn from the former collection of Jim Czyl (1947 - 2014), who wrote the “Cinderella Scene” column in Linn’s Stamp News from 1982 until his death.
The exhibition is organized by Laura Steward, curator of public art at the University of Chicago and an amateur stamp collector. Some of her 2019 projects include The Chicago Sound Show, comprised of nine newly commissioned sound art works from Chicago artists and Ann Hamilton: aeon in the Mansueto Grand Reading for the centennial of the Oriental Institute. Previously, she served as the director of advancement and exhibition programs at the Santa Fe Institute, a complexity science research institute, where she organized exhibitions on complexity themes and developed an artist residency program. From 2012 to 2015, she ran Laura Steward Projects, representing visionary and folk artists, which exhibited at the New York and Paris Outsider Art Fairs. She was Phillips director and chief curator at SITE Santa Fe from 2005 to 2010 and founding curator of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.