Lewis Smith, Untitled [We won't stop...]; n.d., 17 x 12 in, ink, crayon on grocery bag paper
Courtesy American Primitive Gallery, New York
Baumann + Muksian is a temporary curatorial endeavor by Swiss curator Daniel Baumann and San Francisco based artist Aram Muksian. Invited by the Outsider Art Fair, it premiers the work of Californian researcher in metaphysics John Urho Kemp(1942-2010). Known to some as Crystal John, he was also a member of the Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research, a nonprofit, nondenominational organization teaching that the Creator's existence reveals itself in the designs of life and nature. It is Kemp’s seeking of revelations through meditation, metaphysics, patterns, formulas, and numbers that led to an extensive body of writing, calculations and drawings. Archived and brought to New York by Aram Muksian, hundreds of sheets with Kemp's cosmic and philosophical speculations will be made accessible for the first time. Superimposed over wallpaper by British artist Sarah Lucas (*1962) they will be paired with works by Mexican artist Dr. Lakra (*1972) and by Ohio based artist Lewis Smith(1907-1998).
The works of these three artists contrast with Kemp's mental world by being openly erotic and exuberant, and for their display of humor. Lucas, who in 2012 curated the Koestler Trust's 50th anniversary exhibition of art by prison inmates in London, contributes her wallpaper “Tits in Space,” which display pictures of breasts made out of cigarettes and can be understood as a resolute homage to burning desire. Her inclusion might mark the first ever participation of an insider artist at the Outsider Art Fair. The same is true for Dr. Lakra—albeit from a different angle. A draftsman and tattooist, he uses old medical illustrations and pictures from 1950s Mexican magazines to draw his motifs on pin-up girls, wrestlers, stars and starlets. Using his masterly line, Dr. Lakra turns their beauty and the period's reigning aesthetic into a carnivalesque, psychedelic and erotic Vaudeville.
Lewis Smith, who lived secluded in the woods of Ohio, ventured into a similar world yet from a distinctively American background. On brown grocery bags and pieces of cardboard he draws muscular ladies in athletic poses or involved in carnal fights, alleys, wrestlers or panoramic drawings of diners with brawny barmaids and inscriptions like “Gypsy Gossip and Gospel” and “Our Girls Might Not Be The Best But They Carrie Heavy Socks.” The fifth element of this presentation consists of the word GOD built out of vintage Goodyear sign letters. Author and date of this work are unknown, but it asks the question where art has been made, by whom or why—or if it simply should read DOG.
From very different eras and backgrounds, these works share a common ground: a masterly executed disrespect for social conventions and artistic norms in search of enlightenment and artistic freedom.
- Daniel Baumann
Daniel Baumann is a Swiss art historian, critic and curator. He is the director of the Adolf Wölfli Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, Switzerland. Together with Dan Byers and Tina Kukielski, he curated the 2013 Carnegie International at Carnegie Museum of Art. Baumann lives and works in Basel, Switzerland.
Aram Muksian is an American photographer, high school arts educator, and 2014 MFA candidate from the San Francisco Art Institute. Muksian currently lives and works in California.