Lecture on Sunday, January 26 at 3:00 p.m., Asheville Art Museum

Thornton Dial (1928- ), The Hutchin’s Place, 2012. Metal, tin, quilt pieces, denim, oil stick, and enamel on wood, 48 x 39 x 1 inches, Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta.Leisa Rundquist (Associate Professor of Art History) curated the exhibition titled Social Geographies: Interpreting Space and Place for the Asheville Art Museum (January 25–May 18, 2014).  Working closely with her research assistant, Katie Johnson (2013 BFA/ARTH minor), Rundquist organized a thematic exhibition around the work of self-taught artists: Henry Darger (1892-1973), Thornton Dial, Sr. (b. 1928), Minnie Evans (1892-1987), Lonnie Holley (b. 1950), Martín Ramírez (1895-1963), and George Widener (b. 1962).  The thirty-four, mostly large-scale works by these important American artists re-envision space and place informed by social isolation, industrial encroachment, displacement, and inequality.  Consequently, the show investigates visual ways of mapping such experiences through layered objects, panoramic formats, cartographic views, chronographic vistas, and images of visionary and vast worlds. Rundquist’s research for the exhibition was funded by a UNC Asheville Faculty Development, University Research Council, and the Undergraduate Research Program.

Social Geographies: Interpreting Space and Place
Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC
January 25 – May 11, 2014
Guest curated by Leisa Rundquist, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Art, UNC Asheville
Admission Free with Membership or Museum admission. UNC Asheville students are admitted for free with student I.D.
Museum Hours: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday,
noon - 5:00 p.m. Sunday, closed on Monday.

George Widener (1962- ), Stream of Time, 2010
. Mixed media on paper, 27 x 89 inches. GW 27
. Collection of Francois Meyer, MI. Courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York.Full Description of Exhibition Social Geographies: Interpreting Space and Place by Leisa Rundquist

Social Geography:
1. a discipline that examines the social contexts, social processes, and group relations that shape space, place, nature, and landscape
2. a study of the relationships between spatial pattern and social process

Our understanding of "place" is intimately tied to personalized and collective experiences. Place is a concept permeated with social meaning, subjective knowledge, and feelings of belonging. Where we come from and where we now reside are two of the most significant facts about ourselves. We gather our histories, thoughts, and desires within and around notions of place—"home" being one of the most powerful examples. Accordingly, scholar Edward Casey reminds us that "place" lies at the very core of our being:

If imagination projects us out beyond ourselves, while memory takes us back behind ourselves, place subtends and enfolds us, lying perpetually under and around us. In imagining and remembering, we go into the ethereal and the thick respectively. By being in place, we find ourselves in what is subsistent and enveloping. 

Minnie Evans (1892-1987) Designs, Wrightsville Beach 1968 Collage with oil, crayon and pencil on canvas 22 ¼ x 26 3/8 in. Collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC 1979.019 © Image courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of ArtArtists featured in the exhibition Social Geographies represent place in the forms of landscape, maps, and abstract fields not only as scenery or location, but also as the social spaces they inhabit. Each skillfully manipulates common and artistic materials to create visually immersive work that transports viewers to places—those remembered, envisioned or imagined—through layered objects, panoramic formats, cartographic views, chronographic vistas, and allusions to vast worlds.

The exhibition's focus on these particular six artists—Henry Darger, Thornton Dial, Sr., Minnie Evans, Lonnie Holley, Martín Ramírez, and George Widener raises an additional issue of place, or specifically placement within the geographic frameworks of the art world.

Martin Ramírez (1895-1963), Untitled (Train), c. 1953. Auburn, California. Crayon and pencil on pieced paper 22.5 x 47 inches. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., 1990.1.2 Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New YorkSpatial divisions between "inside" and "outside" impact how the art world describes, identifies, and validates artists featured within the exhibition.

Whether deemed "outsider" – Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, George Widener – or "self-taught" – Thornton Dial, Sr., Minnie Evans, Lonnie Holley – these artists bear categorical markers externally imposed upon them. The tendency to compartmentalize these artists provides a convenient label for the art world to assign artistic value but it frequently does so at the expense of examining the artists' work within broader cultural contexts and artistic practices.

George Widener (1962- ) Asian Dream Fragments, 2011. Mixed media on pieced paper, 23½ x 63 inches, GW 36 Private collection. Image courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York.The historical provenance of "Outsider" art can be located in European Art Brut, a term invented by the French artist Jean Dubuffet in 1945 to describe drawings and objects produced by inmates in Swiss psychiatric hospitals. Art historian Roger Cardinal extended and revised Dubuffet's brut, or "raw" artist beyond the context of the asylum by coining "Outsider art" in 1972. He states that Outsider art is, "not only the art of the clinically insane, but also other art of an authentically untutored, original and extra-cultural nature." Since then, Outsider art has remained historically and geographically contingent upon what a dominant culture perceives as dysfunctional or pathological, i.e. "outside" what it deems conventional or within notions of "normality."

Lonnie Hollie, In Bed with Him (The Old Man and the Young Girl), 1995 found objects; relocated to Holley's Harpersville, AL yard Photograph by William Arnett, 1999 Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, AtlantaThe designation of being "self-taught" may appear to be more neutrally derived than that of "outsider," referring to someone with no academic training and connection to the art world. In spite of its straightforward application, this term also presents difficulties as it signals how the art world privileges a specific kind of education, one gleaned from an institution. In truth, knowledge comes from many arenas (not just from formal training).

To call an artist "outsider" or "self-taught" implies less of an aesthetic and cultural understanding and more of a sociological condition. In short, these labels say more about the spatial constitution of the art world and less about the artwork. Conversely, Social Geographies asks viewers to consider artwork regarded as "different," differently. Rather than presenting artists and their work through labels and genres that foster marginality, the exhibition seeks to generate discussions of subjective and shared experiences told through the artists' representations of space and place.

(Visit this website often as relevant material will be linked as the semester progresses. The information will be of particular interest to docents, teachers/ students preparing to visit the exhibition, as well as interested museum visitors.)

Scholarly Lectures, Film Screenings, and Book Discussion related to artists in Social Geographies Exhibition

The Artists in Social Georgraphies

Special Thanks to Katie Johnson, Research Assistant for Exhibition