In a Wonderland They Lie…
Exceptional Objects and Eccentric Art in Rago’s “Curiouser and Curiouser” Auction
11 October 2017
On Sunday, October 22, Rago Auctions holds a singular auction called Curiouser and Curiouser. Curated by dealer Marion Harris, it features outsider and folk art, unusual decorative arts, one-of-a-kind animal themed antiques, sideshow related items, books, scientific and medical items, photography, erotica and more.
Read on to discover the “curious” back-stories behind some of the 200+ unconventional lots on offer.
The artists known as the Connor Brothers satirize pop culture from Shakespeare to modern romantic novels. Under the pseudonym of twins Brendan and Franklyn Connor, they developed an invented biography that included an isolated childhood in a controversial Californian cult in the 1980s, escape as teenagers, and the subsequent creation of a body of work naively reconfiguring pop culture. In fact, they are a pair of art dealers who, in a fickle industry, re-invented themselves as artists. To their surprise, the art world fell thrall to the work. In 2013, the year their work was introduced, the initial acclaim resulted in sold out shows, placement in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and record auction prices realized in London, England. This response and resulting popularity prompted them to reveal their true identity to The Telegraph. The truth added to the artists’ desirability and they continue to produce work blurring reality and fiction. The Connor Brothers have had hugely successful shows in London, as well as at The Outsider Art Fair and The Art & Antiques Fair at The Park Avenue Armory in New York City.
The artist known as Karl Waldmann, like the Connor Brothers, is an invention. Allegedly a Dresden-born painter, he was “rediscovered” in 1989 and hailed as a star of the German Dada movement. All known works, so the story goes, were discovered by a French journalist at a Berlin flea market shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall. The art has found its way into auctions and even (briefly) into museum group shows, for example, at Kunsthaus Dresden. Much remains unclear in the mysterious case of Karl Waldmann. If the artist never existed, then who created the artworks, and when?
Artists' models, the articulated figures found among the stocks of art supply merchants, date back several centuries. Ranging in size from under seven inches to larger than life-size, the earliest and finest examples are of South German origin from the early 16th century; Italian examples are also known. Minute and meticulous attention was paid to every articulation of these exquisite, earliest boxwood examples of male and female figures. Engineered with an ingenious system of gut bands, they were not suitable for rigorous use in artist studios and were likely made for display in Kunstkammer collections, reflecting the interest in the human body during the Renaissance. Artist mannequins, or lay figures, became more androgynous from the 18th into the 19th century, by which time they were constructed in pine, linden or walnut with wooden pegs and ball joints. Reaching their peak of manufacture and popularity in France circa 1850, ownership was coveted. "Mannequin Articulé" would be listed in the inventory of important artists' possessions at that time. Keenly sought after by collectors, desirability and rarity is defined by size, quality, condition, antiquity and, particularly, the deftness of the carving.
Morton Bartlett was a private man whose artistry became public only after his death. The adopted only son of a Boston Brahmin couple, he left Harvard two years before graduating with the class of 1932. Various jobs followed, including gas station manager and printer’s broker, while he devoted himself to creating a fantasy family of perfectly sculpted children. Bartlett photographed these meticulously dressed and posed figures in staged scenarios that were at once quotidian and dramatic: a girl curled up comfortably reading or dancing at a ballet class; a boy at the beach. Discovered in their entirety after the distribution of his estate, Morton Bartlett’s staged photographs have since received international acclaim. Bartlett’s work is in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Collection de l’Art Brut Musée, Lausanne, along with many others.
“The Lord spoke and he said: Give up the repair of lawn mowers; Give up the repair of bicycles; Give up sermons; Paint my pictures……..And that’s what I done” Howard Finster is possibly the most prolific and famous Outsider artist. He turned his house in Georgia into “Paradise Garden”, a venue to display his vision of preaching through painting, with a constant display of artwork for sale to the collectors and dealers who were frequent visitors. His paintings were brought to national attention by LIFE magazine in 1980 when it featured Finster among a number of leading folk artists and catapulted him to his current level of fame. To spread his vision, Finster produced more than 20,000 paintings. He used anything at hand – furniture, bottles, mirrors, plastic, plywood, canvas, and, as he would say, “the best bicycle paint available.” Finster’s art is instantly recognizable; the best is deserving of the superstar status he earned by preaching and promoting to aspiring believers and collectors. His work is in the collections of national and international museums and he was chosen to represent America at the Venice Bienniale in 1984.