WE BEGIN TO UNCOVER TEETH
So here we are, me, Flick, Schwartz, and Bruner, walking down this alley and we discover stuff in the trash. At first it’s discarded movie film that gets us. Flick says, “My god, look at this film!” Schwartz says, “Look at the film! Oh boy! Wow!” Here’s this big pile of stuff. And then we begin to uncover teeth.
Have you ever seen the magnificent things that are pulled out of the human cranium? I’ll tell you! We start grabbing these teeth. Schwartz says, “Look at this one! Wow!” It has nine roots. “Look at that! Wow!” He sticks it in his pocket.
The four of us are frantic. For about a half-hour we’re collecting teeth. Decayed teeth. Big cavities in ‘em. I’ve got a whole pocket-full of them. Boy, great teeth!
We’re always vying with each other—the sporting instinct in man is very strong and he’ll bet on anything. We compete with each other to find the worst tooth.
When we depleted the supply, we took our teeth and went home. I had mine stuck in my corduroy knickers. I had these corduroy knickers that were so ripe they were like a compost heap. They were three years old and you could hear the twigs sprouting in them and see moss growing on the side. After I eat a salami sandwich in the kitchen I go into my bedroom with this pocket full of decadence, of decay. I take them out and look at them. I have about fifty of them.
Okay, there was some little obscure idea in my mind that told me that something’s not right! I think we have an inbuilt morality. We know when we’re doing something we shouldn’t, we don’t need any rules. This isn’t right—okay, but I hide them under my bed in Prince Albert cans and go out and play ball.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE DECAYED TEETH
TOURIST ART, AIRPORT ART, ETHNO-KITCH
I very much like some ethnic and primitive art. Undoubtedly I am influenced by the esthetic milieu brought about by the early twentieth-century avant garde creators and critics. The problem for me is that most of the authentic, high-quality stuff is way beyond the reach of my (and most peoples’} financial ability to possess. And “possess” is what I desire regarding my enthusiasm for all the arts. At times over the decades, I’ve been lucky to acquire a few good minor specimens.
There’s been plenty of thought given the problem. The division between authentic and commercially manufactured bastardized forms for sale to the esthetically unsophisticated (at airports to departing tourists, and at local boutiques) is sometimes an uncertain sliding scale one has trouble comprehending and dealing with. It’s not always easy to get it right. But, of course, everyone (myself included) knows what they like.
In the 1976 book, Ethnic and Tourist Arts, Cultural Expressions From the Fourth World, the negative end of the divide is succinctly put: “When the profit motive or the economic competition of poverty override esthetic standards, satisfying the consumer becomes more important than pleasing the artist.”
What am I to make of it all? Is it “primitive”? Is it authentic? Am I being bamboozled?
Two divergent comments on such subjects that come to my mind:
1. I read that those colorful “mola” blouses of Indian women on the San Blas Islands off Panama and Columbia came about through imported, Western textiles, needles, and scissors. Thus, the entire “art form” is not an originally developed expression of the indigenous people, but was, at the very leased, influenced by introduced technology;
2. When I first met Anthropologist Margaret Mead to discuss designing her permanent exhibit Hall of Pacific Peoples (which includes much ethnic material we would call primitive art), I asked her if she disliked the term “primitive art.” She immediately and authoritatively replied, “Not at all!”
“The Art of Being Huichol” was the name of a 1979 temporary exhibition I designed at the Museum of Natural History. It displayed dozens of intensely colored objects made by the western Mexican Indian tribe, the Huichol.
The New York Times description of the exhibit begins:
Leaving behind food and water, the Huichol Indians of Mexico once a year journey from the Sierra Madre Mountains through the San Louis Potosi desert in search of the peyote cactus and the enlightenment they say it brings….
When the exhibit material suggests it to me,
I try to provide the entire environment of the exhibit space
with some feeling for the subject matter.
My colored pencil elevation-drawing represents one of the walls of the exhibit,
about 70 feet long by almost 10 feet high, intended to suggest,
left to right, the journey of the Huichol toward the drug that brings intense visions.
Some of the most striking Huichol artworks I displayed near the bright,
all-yellow wall at the far end (not shown).
Among the many mass-produced, intensely colored objects such as pocketbook covers, belts, shoulder bags, coasters, etc. that some Huichol make, the best known—and most creative– are the “yarn paintings.” These are flat pictures created by gluing onto plywood panels, colored yarn arranged into psychedelic-like representations of visions presumably seen by the artists when under the influence. While I was designing the exhibit, a representative of the Huichol culture discussed the “paintings,” with me and I bought from him, the 2’ X 2’ picture shown below, by Jose Benitez Sanchez, the major artist of the genre. At home we display it prominently in our stairwell .
Huichol Shamen Walk the Bright Path Into Enlightenment.
[More CLOTH IMAGES to come]