Art in the City: The Sacred and the Profane

Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South
Museum of Biblical Art

Unlike most contemporary art on display in New York, the work in “Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South” is not the product of art school grooming. Presented by the Museum of Biblical Art, this show reveals how self-taught Southern artists depict Christianity. The 73 artists included, of whom 43 are African American, use materials as diverse as crayons, carved wood, house paint, glitter, dirt, coffee cans, a beat-up pink tricycle, and, my favorite, “wood on mirrored Plexiglas, beads, and tractor enamel.” Tractor enamel? That’s right, whatever it takes to express an opinion about Christianity down South. The most memorable pieces include Jas Johns’ painted overalls titled Heaven and Hell Britches and Robert Roberg’s day-glow depiction of the Whore of Babylon riding a seven-headed beast (pictured). Compared with the affected naïveté that has overrun Chelsea, this work seems raw, funny and refreshingly unpretentious.

Max Ernst Retrospective
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Your opportunity to enter a Freudian fantasy world is about to end. The Metropolitan Museum’s lavish retrospective of Max Ernst, the impish German Surrealist, is closing July 10. Ernst is best known for his dream-like Surrealist paintings but this exhibition also shows off his collages and illustrated novels. A Dadaist in his youth, Ernst combined fragments of 19th-century engravings to create bizarre and humorous images that are among the best collages ever made. Ernst invented two painting techniques, grattage and decalcomania, which allowed him to alter the texture of the painted surface to match the complexity of his collages. The paintings from the late 1930s and 40s that use these techniques are grim, doomsday visions. Their influence can be seen in many contemporary fantasy landscapes, like the work in the Whitney Museum’s current show Remote Viewing (Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing). But perhaps the best reason to see the Ernst exhibit is to learn about his scandalous liaisons…


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