Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rebecca Hoffberger: Queen of Plain Weirdos

Rebecca Hoffberger

“I forgot fanny means one thing in the US and another to the English,” says Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the spectacular The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore, Maryland. “I met up with an English guy recently connected to this museum and it was a hot day and I said ‘My fanny’s so big’. He looked a bit astonished.”

AVAM is dedicated to exhibiting the work of untrained artists, and I am in love with the place and with Rebecca. Forget about her fanny (whichever) – it’s her soul that’s big, very big. She is the champion of the ”mystical genius of crackpots, crackheads, and just plain weirdos,” as someone once put it. She loves kitsch, she hates crap. In one part of the museum is Andrew Logan’s giant statue of the late transvestite actor Divine, vastly blonde and glittery as we remember him – “I know his mother, he was her only child, and she loves that model of him. She lives in Florida,” says Rebecca.

Andrew Logan's Divine statue

In the courtyard outside is Logan’s 12 foot high ceramic mosaic and mirrored Cosmic Egg marked with outer space images captured by the Hubble telescope. “Logan created the Alternative Miss World,” reminds Rebecca, “and it was thanks to the young barrister Tony Blair that it could be called that despite the protests of the Miss World people.” We tinkle lightly at fate’s incongruities. We talk of the artist Ben Wilson who painted faces on discarded chewing gum on streets. Didn’t the police – with nothing better to do – try to arrest him? Google! I forget to see the art car called the Geller Effect created by Uri Geller: a 1976 Cadillac covered in 5,000 pieces of contorted cutlery achieved by his psychic power.

On our way to the main building, wrapped in a massive glass mosaic created by young offenders (a glass tree nearby stands sentry), we pass a spooky life-cast on a wall of the late Anita Roddick who helped finance the museum. I shouldn’t feel sad she’s gone but I do. I hate life-casts – little better than corpses. I prefer impressions; hints.

Inside, Rebecca talks me through the Body & Soul exhibition she has curated: “a scientific and an artistic exploration for evidence of spirit.” The range of work is overwhelming. One exhibit is by Dr Andy Newberg whose brain scan pics suggest that orgasm and prayer are very alike as mental activities, a thought that may offend celibates of faith as they conceal their hard-ons and clit-growths. I am astonished to learn that over a long period (since the last war I think) 500 nuns have donated their brains to science to aid dementia research. One wall is given to atheists who explain why God is missing or never was.

You learn that all the great religions, though male oriented, celebrate the feminine principle and that “mercy” and “womb” are linked in etymology. Statues and other artworks on the feminine divine span different ages and beliefs. 13th Century Rumi’s work is showcased: his call for religious tolerance so timeless and futile.

There’s so much more to say but this will suffice for now. Rebecca tells me she will be exhibiting the work of a 112-year old man still alive, “a mathematical savant”. She adds: “Before I met him I expected someone completely withered, but I was wrong. He has a full head of hair.” Apparently Alan Rickman made a movie here some time recent. He should be plonked in flavoured dry ice and hanged on a wall for licking – celebs generally should be dry iced for a most amusing show. I’d call it Star Lollies.

For more on AVAM click here

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