Two UofM Exhibitions Celebrate Contemporary Folk Art

October 7, 2015

Folk Art

The exhibitions "The True Gospel Preached Here: Photographs by Bruce West" and "Memphis Collects Contemporary Folk Art" at the Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art at the University of Memphis are on display now until Nov. 6.

"The True Gospel Preached Here" features a selection of photographs by Bruce West documenting the spiritual and creative work of the Rev. H. D. Dennis (1916-2012), a self-proclaimed preacher, artist and architect, and his wife Margaret (1916-2009), in Vicksburg, Miss. West's vibrant photographs explore the fantastic world of the couple who devoted more than 20 years of their lives to converting Margaret's grocery store into an eclectic nondenominational church.

Guided by visions from God, the Rev. H.D. and Margaret erected several painted towers, constructed their own Ark of the Covenant and developed new religious iconography. Rev. Dennis used his ever-evolving church as a roadside attraction to draw in visitors to hear his fiery sermons and orations. A sign at the site's entrance proclaimed, "The True Gospel Preached Here."

Spanning nearly 20 years and multiple site visits, West's photographs are both intimate and bold, revealing the couple's love of God and one another, a sense of commitment to one's work and the transformation of person and place. West is a professor in the Department of Art and Design at Missouri State University. His photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe and are included in museum collections such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Library of Congress, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Showcasing standout works from several local private collections, "Memphis Collects Contemporary Folk Art" features the paintings, drawings and sculptures of more than 25 self-taught artists, ranging from Rev. Howard Finster, perhaps the South's most famous contemporary folk artist, to the little-known Memphian Floyd "Pussum" Glover. Highlighted are the unconventional materials used by these artists and the common interests they share in religion, social issues and popular culture.

The exhibition also considers the usage of the terms "contemporary folk art" and "outsider art." Contemporary folk art refers to work produced by unschooled artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Outsider art most appropriately describes the highly individualistic creations of self-taught artists with atypical mental states or disabilities. Central to both is their making at the hands of artists who have taught themselves. "Memphis Collects Contemporary Folk Art" is curated by Dr. Carol Crown, professor emerita in art history at the UofM. Crown is author of numerous publications including Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, The Bible, and the American South and The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Volume 23: Folk Art.

"The True Gospel Preached Here: Photographs by Bruce West" and "Memphis Collects Contemporary Folk Art" coincide with the Folk Art Society of America's annual conference, which will be held in Memphis from Nov. 5-8. A free symposium featuring leading scholars of folk art and music will be held Saturday, Nov. 7, from 9 a.m. to noon in 310 Art and Communication Building at the UofM.

The Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art are located in rooms 230 and 240 of the Art and Communication Building, 3715 Central Ave., and provide vastly expanded professional display space for the Art Department. The galleries serve as a valuable educational experience for our students. Additionally, it gives the College of Communication and Fine Arts expanded capacity to bring contemporary working artists to campus to enrich the curriculum and broaden our students' understanding of today's art world within the national and international context.