MULTITUDES will open on January 21, 2022, at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) (2 Lincoln Sq., Columbus Ave. at W. 65th St.). Organized on the occasion of the Museum’s 60th anniversary, it will be on display through September 5, 2022, and will showcase some 400 stellar works, including recent gifts and new acquisitions that will be exhibited at AFAM for the first time.
In the exhibition, the concept of ‘multitudes’ is reflected in the artistic process itself—from gestures of repetition and seriality, as well as organizing acts of systematization, memorialization, inventory-taking, and the creation of casts of characters. MULTITUDES includes community-based creations rooted in long-standing traditions, functional but highly aesthetic objects reflecting widespread popular practices, works by neurodivergent individuals, and artworks as fragments entangled in private mythologies.
“For 60 years, the Museum has brought art and inspiration to millions of people. MULTITUDES builds upon that rich history with an exciting exhibition for all ages,” said Jason T. Busch, Director and CEO of AFAM. “Thanks to the work of my colleagues Valérie Rousseau and Emelie Gevalt, the show will add a new layer of scholarship to our field.”
Presented non-chronologically, the works in the show are visually clustered to reveal not only their individuality but also their commonalities. From hypnotic lines skillfully mastered by Martín Ramírez to the patterns of an intricate sunburst quilt by Rebecca Scattergood Savery, repetition as a method emerges. Artworks by Ammi Phillips, Sam Doyle, Daldo Marte, and Mary Paulina Corbett feature a wide range of characters and personalities.
Early American objects like birth and marriage records, mourning pictures, family trees, and needlework samplers are especially redolent of memory-keeping—all serving as devices for documenting lives lived and lives lost. Likewise, Bessie Harvey’s sculptures call to ancestral memory through hidden visual storytelling, while Mary K. Borkowski’s art illuminates personal repressed narratives. Within the oeuvres of Susan Te Kahurangi King and Yuichiro Ukai, popular figures from various timeframes persistently resurface.
The exhibition will also include William Edmondson’s Martha and Mary. Dubbed “a Holy Grail of American Folk Art,” the sculpture was recently rediscovered in St. Louis, Missouri, and has been given to the Museum by Brian Donnelly (a.k.a. KAWS), an artist, collector, and member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
MULTITUDES is organized by Valérie Rousseau, Senior Curator, and Emelie Gevalt, Curator of Folk Art, with assistance from Sadé Ayorinde and Steffi Ibis Duarte.
“The exhibition mines the idea of ‘multitudes’ as a metaphor for the vast breadth of the Museum’s holdings. It reflects the Museum’s commitment to expanding scholarship and carving out an inspiring space for multi-voiced artistic expressions,” said Rousseau.
Commented Gevalt: “The exceptional works of art on view reveal fascinating links embedded within the rich history of our field and exemplify the idea of the Museum as a collection of collections.”
About the American Folk Art Museum
The American Folk Art Museum engages people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and place. The Museum is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2021 and 2022.
MULTITUDES is supported in part by The Bresler Foundation, Fleur Bresler, the Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, the American Folk Art Society, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Stacy C. Hollander Fund for Exhibitions, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul, and the New York State Legislature.