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Inspired Minds 

D. Eric Bookhardt on outsider and visionary art at the Ogden Museum

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The Ogden Museum's current offerings are of interest, especially the photography shows, but the big surprise is the Alexa Kleinbard and Jim Roche collection of visionary outsider art. Both are artists themselves, and their collection suggests a mixed-media installation in its own right, as well as a fresh take on what outsider art can mean. Most folk art has ranged from cute to weird in exhibitions often anthropological in tone, but here the spirit of each artist, forcefully or quietly, reaches out and grabs you. They all have a story to tell, and if you make eye contact, they also will make you listen. It's a world of self-taught artists acting under orders from God or gods, known or unknown, and you are there to witness marvels large and small. Of them, the substantial painted wood carvings of Tallahassee, Fla.'s O.L. Samuels are hard to miss. An 80-year-old former tree trimmer brought back from the dead after a fall, Samuels creates mythic or demonic beings that radiate an otherworldly joie de vivre. Edna (pictured), a wood sculpture of an intricately painted woman with an intense visage, is eerily alive, dominating the space in front of a wall of "religious" paintings by Roger Rice, an ordained minister in Oklahoma. While some preachers merely condemn lewd or scandalous behavior, Rice shows us precisely what he means in some of the most graphically lurid images the Bible ever inspired. Conversely, Daniel Pressley's paintings depict ordinary slices of life imbued with vibrant magic/realist intensity, as do Remy Mott's inexplicably haunting paintings of women, or Sylvanus Hudson's iconic Heart With Cross, with its homespun voodoo overtones. What they all have in common is a sense of reinventing the world we thought we knew, as if these artists had traveled to a rustic parallel universe in a backyard space capsule and come back with souvenirs for all to see. It's wonderful stuff. — D. Eric Bookhardt


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