Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the Collection
Figures, Animals, Guns (Exciting Events), ca. 1939–1942
Crayon on cardboard
The Menil Collection, Houston
Photo: Paul Hester
September 23, 2011 - January 15, 2012
In the early Twentieth Century Surrealists were enchanted by “outsider art,” as the work of those
with little to no contact with the mainstream art world has come to be known. They believed artists
with no formal art training or those who drew in altered mental states could more successfully access the subconscious, achieving a greater clarity and authenticity of expression. In 1949, artist
Jean Dubuffet invented the term Art Brut, to define this aspect of art making, and went on to champion creators who “draw everything (subject, choice of material, expressive means, rhythms,
spellings, etc.) from their own inner selves and not from the commonplaces of classical or currently
Showcasing a unique and rarely exhibited facet of the Menil Collection’s works on paper, Seeing
Stars highlights drawings by artists that can be called visionary, folk, naïve or self-taught. Defying
traditional and academic methods of representation and mark making, the works share formal and
stylistic tendencies such as repetitive and labor-intensive processes, experiments with chance, automatism, and psychoanalysis, and the construction of imaginary landscapes, creatures, and machines. The exhibition’s title, taken from the vision-altering concept of “seeing stars,” refers to a
physiological anomaly in which the stimulation of the retina by the brain creates the illusion of points of light, colors or shapes. Like the works on view, the phenomenon suggests that creative vision is perhaps most interesting when the eyes are shut and inspiration comes from within.
The exhibition features a selection of Charles A. A. Dellschau’s watercolors and collages of fantastic flying machines, discovered in a Houston junk shop, and two drawings by surrealist artist and author Unica Zürn. Her compulsive line drawings, many completed while she was institutionalized, have been described as sitting on the brink of sanity. The show also includes work
collected by John and Dominique de Menil from the Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas; a doublesided scroll by Henry Darger depicting a magical universe he called the “realm of the unreal”; and work by Bill Traylor, Joseph Elmer Yoakum, and I. E. Reiquer.
This show is organized by Michelle White, associate curator.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston. Exhibition underwriter United Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection.