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Review: The Gasperi Collection 

D. Eric Bookhardt on Richard Gasperi’s collection of outsider art, now on view at the Ogden Museum

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Once folk art was just folk art. Somewhere, up in the hills, resourceful matrons gathered to make quilts and gossip, or retired small town cops carved duck decoys and other, less identifiable things, but it was all normal, good, clean fun. In the 1970s, another kind of folk art became fashionable. It was variously dubbed "visionary" or "outsider" art, terms that were code for art by people who sometimes heard or saw things, often very strange things. Some were just oddballs and others said they were on a mission from God to save souls with their religious paintings. Local collector Richard Gasperi assembled more than 500 such works, much of it on view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where it makes for a great prelude to the Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings upstairs, with which the work has much in common.

  An entire gallery chamber is occupied by the works of David Butler, who in his retirement became a visionary conjurer of strange, benignly demonic avian and reptilian creatures painted in the rich colors and staccato patterns often associated with African art, but here mostly rendered in shaped corrugated tin panels. His vision evokes the cross section of an imagination that somehow encompasses local swamps as well as the jungles of Africa. Similarly, Mose Tolliver was an elderly Alabama artist who painted odd animals — and even odder women, who sometimes resembled those obscene Sheela Na Gig female exhibitionist gargoyles still found above strategic portals on ancient Irish cathedrals. But Sister Gertrude Morgan was all about piety, hers and ours, and here she reveals to us The Throne of God (pictured), which clearly illustrates how she came to be considered something akin to a William Blake of the Lower 9th Ward. It's quite a contrast to Jack Zwirz's inexplicably beguiling portrait of an Eleven Fingered Seamstress in an evening dress, or the Rev. Howard Finster's colorfully inscribed painting illustrating how "millions of church folk drink Coca-Cola and drive home safely."

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