This Exhibition Has Ended

June 24, 2017
August 13, 2017
In the Moak, Class of 1953, and Schaenen Galleries, Floor 2L

This exhibition celebrates the primacy of impulse and imagination in the creative process.

The title is inspired, in part, by an exchange of letters published in 1918 in the New York Sun. The open correspondence began with a letter written in earnest by David A. Curtis. The editors captioned it, “The Banana Puzzle—A Genius Wanted Who Will Make from the Fruit Flour that Will Keep.”

Louis Eilshemius—artist, poet, composer, onetime Cornell agriculture student, and self-appointed “Supreme Spirit of the Spheres”—took up the cause with enthusiasm, only to dispense with the issue later, writing, “Why want a flour out of bananas any way? Are they not best in their natural state? I prefer them so.”

And so it is with the varied and intriguing works presented in the exhibition. We may enjoy them best in their natural state—these products of creative necessity, richly invested with personal and sacred symbolism, and wrought by uncommon makers of diverse experience, motivation, and training.

Many of the artists included in the show are self-taught. Others enjoyed some art instruction. And some were academically trained and technically capable, but—like Eilshemius—consciously chose to work in a nonmainstream manner.

As Eilshemius remarked in a 1920 speech to Marcel Duchamp’s modern art club, the Société Anonyme, Inc., “Everybody can make academic art, but everybody cannot produce soul art.” This is the spirit and the subject of the show.

Along with a selection of Eilshemius’s own paintings, works by Thornton Dial, Howard Finster, Jasmin Joseph, Lee Godie, Robert Goodnough, Clara Seley, Inez Nathaniel Walker, and others are presented. All are drawn from the Johnson Museum’s permanent collection, and many are exhibited for the first time.

Matt Conway