Saturday, November 14, 2015

‘Unorthodox’ Faces Paradox at the Jewish Museum 

The world of contemporary art may be a fractious place, but there’s one thing that almost everyone involved agrees about: Orthodoxy is bad. Slavish obedience to any dogma — aesthetic, academic, political, religious and otherwise — is anathema to Modern and contemporary art. Independence, freedom, originality, authenticity, critical thinking, defiance of authority and so forth: These are the prevailing values of art today, and they are what most progressive art schools try to teach. Unorthodoxy is today’s orthodoxy. That’s a paradoxical problem for “Unorthodox,” the Jewish Museum’s new exhibition of putatively unorthodox works by 55 artists from around the world.

The titular theme aside, it’s an engaging, often entertaining and intermittently exhilarating show. With about 200 works crowded into tight spaces walled in by temporary partitions, it has the feel of an Outsider Art fair — in a good way. The paintings, drawings, collages, assemblages, ceramics, weavings and videos on view are variously funny, funky, quirky, eccentric, idiosyncratic and visionary. It’s a plus, too, that few if any of the artists are widely known beyond the places where they live. Probably the most famous participant is the writer William T. Vollmann, here represented by juicy, expressionist paintings of women said to portray his female alter ego.


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