A lecture on “visionary artists” by Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, was hosted by the Talbot Spy and Academy Art Museum on February 21.
Hoffberger is the founder and director of AVAM and oversees the revolving exhibitions that explore the universe of self-taught artists, those with a consuming need to create art out of anything at hand—from matchsticks to a 55ft wind-driven whirligig and celestial mosaics made out of broken glass, human torsos formed with piano hammers or floral arrangements made out of old radio vacuum tubes.
Brut art, raw art, naive or “outsider art” is found outside the formalism of trained artists and art galleries. Often, they are constructions made of materials at hand by people who do not think of their work as art or that they are artists. Natural shapes of wood, shards of broken, colored glass, toothpicks, feathers—virtually anything—are fashioned into wildly expressive imaginary compositions. Hoffberger is clear to not misapply the term “outsider art,” pointing out that it was early vocabulary used to describe creations by the mentally ill, those fully excluded from society.
To a packed lecture hall at the Academy Art Museum, Hoffberger described her journey creating a museum to showcase visionary art as a kind of necessary mission born out of her work with psychiatric patients at Sinai Hospital’s People Encouraging People program. It was there she took a keen interest in the imaginative works of the patients and saw their creations as an “evolutionary force of imagination.”
Hoffberger’s search to create a museum of her own led her to the Collection de l’art brut in Lausanne, Switzerland during the 1980s where most of the exhibit is comprised of “outsider art.” Visionary art, hence Visionary Art Museum, is more expansive and includes unique works by untrained artists, may they be carpenters, farmers, anyone who is driven to create something personal and sublime.
Hoffberger is a passionate lecturer and draws from a wide-ranging and eclectic knowledge of the art world. She can dovetail a quote by existentialist philosopher Martin Buber and the poet Rumi with a futuristic painting drawn with colored pencils and include a personal story about an artist who quilted scenes about the Holocaust.
The AVAM director guided the audience through her 25-year journey with a slide presentation exploring the wide spectrum of visionary art, how she managed to get the 7 million dollar museum in Baltimore on its feet, and begin searching for the raw masterpieces on exhibit there. More about this can be found in a previous article in the Spy.