Finding Portraits of the Past at Intuit
This summer, Intuit: The Center of Intuitive and Outsider Art features two exhibitions, Lost and Found: the Search for Harry and Edna and Past Perfect: The Art of Eileen Doman. Both are themed on era, nostalgia, personality, and family photos. Although different mediums and processes were used to make the featured work, the exhibitions compliment each other through their depiction of American life.
Intuit’s loud, industrial door opens into the large gallery space featuring Lost and Found. Towards the middle sits a reel and projector with two armchairs situated on a homey oriental rug. Large photos of Harry and Edna’s lives line the wall. The photos date from the late 1940’s to 1961, from house parties, to exotic vacations, to nieces and nephews. Just past the quaint gift shop towards the back, is a smaller gallery room with Past Perfect: The Art of Eileen Doman. On the left wall, Doman’s paintings are arranged in a collage format. The rest of her paintings line the three other walls. In the corner is a small TV playing the CBS program, Face to Face with Connie Chung that features the profile of Doman. The second exhibition space also includes the permanent Henry Darger Room and non-circulating Robert A. Roth Study Center.
Lost and Found began in 2011, when Chicago photographer, Jeff Phillips, found hundreds of photos of a couple at a second hand store outside of St. Louis. Phillips was eager to know the history of the couple and created a Facebook page, Is This Your Mother? Each day, Phillips posted a photo in hopes to eventually find Harry and Edna’s family and information about them. Phillips expected his quest to take years. However, the page grew in popularity and “the social media search party” took off.
Read the full story of Harry and Edna here.
Lost and Found is not focused on the quality or composition of the photos, but rather the collection as a whole, and its interaction with the Facebook community. Lost and Found asks questions of the boundaries of legacy: What does the documentation of our lives today mean when we are gone? What do we become after our last photo disappears? The other inherent part to the exhibition are the blown up Facebook captions under the photos. Phillips quickly found himself enthralled in the art of commentary. The captions people were posting revealed aspects about the era and Harry and Edna’s lives, but they also revealed much about the Facebook commenters.
Both exhibitions capture the essence and personality of the subjects. Eileen Doman depicts character in all of her paintings by slightly augmenting her subjects to create a true portrait of personality. Doman’s style is distinctive and quirky. Doman prominently works from family photos but she eventually expanded to painting notable figures and celebrities. Doman is completely self-taught, finding painting in the early 1990's after her daughter enrolled in school. Quickly Doman’s paintings rose in popularity in the mid 1990’s, hailed as an overnight sensation and began showing in prominent New York City galleries. Don’t miss Eileen Doman’s Gallery Talk on September 13, 1pm led by Intuit curator Kevin Cole.
The Henry Darger Room Collection is another glimpse into the past and the artist’s life. The installation features Darger’s Remington typewriter and furniture, as well as other various artifacts. During my visit, Intuit was hosting a rehearsal for the play, The Strange Case of Henry Darger, written by BBC Producer, Judith Kampfner and performed by Looking Glass Theater. The rehearsal added to Intuit’s atmosphere of creativity, with monologues audible from next door in the rehearsal space.