Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hampton's Throne: Nothing to do with Judaism, but it's so damn cool!

I just returned from taking my family to Washington DC. While there, we visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). A center piece of their folk art collection is the work entitled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, or, as it is more commonly known, Hampton's Throne.

This is a premier example of what is variously labelled "Visionary," "Outsider," or even "Crank" Art. An inspired person operating entirely outside the conventional "art world" creates naive work of idiosyncratic style and/or monumental scope. Often, the artist is a socially isolated or maladapt person. Many of these artists labor unseen in their lifetimes. The art creation often strikes an observer to be the product of a compulsive obsessive. I grew up in New Mexico near such a work, the multi-acre/multi-building life-long work of one man, locally known as "Tinker Town."

Hampton's Throne is something of equal breath and even greater beauty. Constructed over the course of two decades in a garage by a Washington DC custodian, James Hampton, it was only revealed to the public after his death. It is magnificent. Using recycled furniture, art paper, light bulbs, cardboard, cans, and various types of foil (much of it packaging foil), Mr. Hampton gave form to an amazing and deeply personal celestial vision. Some of it pays homage to Biblical objects and iconography, but much is wholly original. Go to the SAAM website and there is a zoomable image that will allow you to examine the composition in detail:


I am a great fan of outsider art, perhaps because I find the inspiration, intention, and passion embodied in such works to be more authentic then is apparent in most works of "high art" that appear in our galleries and museums. Outsider art also intersects with my fascination with the ecstatic, mystical, and occult that is the focus of this blog. Those are the only rationales I have for including this entry, but it's my blog and I wanted to talk about it.


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