A unique and rarely shown facet of the Menil’s holdings is works on paper by self-taught artists. The Surrealists were particularly enchanted by what has come to be known as outsider art. They believed these visionary, folk, or naive artists could access the subconscious and express it with greater clarity and authenticity than people with artistic training. In 1949, the artist Jean Dubuffet championed 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 fashionable art.”
Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawings from the Collection features outsider drawing, as well as drawings by established modern and contemporary artists who have consciously adopted an outsider vocabulary. Both groups work against traditional and academic methods of representation and mark-making. They also share formal and stylistic tendencies that have continued to play a role in conversations about drawing in the 20th century, including repetitive and labor-intensive exercises, experiments with chance and automatism, and the construction of imaginary landscapes and fantastic illustration.
The show features Charles A.A. Dellschau’s watercolors and collages of flying machines in handbound journals, and Surrealist artist Unica Zürn’s compulsive line drawings, described as sitting on the brink of sanity. Lee Bontecou’s dreamscape drawings are shown alongside drawings of tattoo designs by 19th-century artist I.E. Reiquer. Other works will include a double-sided scroll by Henry Darger depicting a magical universe he called the “realm of the unreal,” and a group of early Jackson Pollock drawings made while the Abstract Expressionist painter was undergoing psychoanalysis.
The exhibition’s title, Seeing Stars, references a physical phenomenon in which the stimulation of the retina by the brain creates the illusion of points of light, colors, or shapes without external stimulation. The works on view parallel this occurrence, showcasing the unique form of creativity that occurs when the eyes are metaphorically shut. Curated by Michelle White, associate curator.
This exhibition is generously supported by Courtney and Christopher Sarofim, Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray, and the City of Houston. Exhibition underwriter United Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection.
Photos: Paul Hester