Saturday, March 21, 2015

Madness and a Few Common Household Items

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through August 2, 2015

"Mingering Mike" - who was he?  Why did he decide to create a phony musical career?  Why not channel his artistic talents in another direction?  There are no answers, but his show at the American Art Museum makes it fun to ask the questions.

Found at a flea market and now owned by the museum, this collection of album covers, records and other evidence of  a vast musical career is the work of a young DC man who clearly loved the R&B and funk music of the city from the 1950s - 1970s.

It's hard to describe the collection exactly, as it's not like anything else I've ever seen.  Everything is fake; there was no Mingering Mike (at least, not a Mingering Mike who was a musician) and he never released these albums and singles.  The artist created all of this out of cardboard.  The 45s are the most impressive works, in my view, as they look so realistic.  He's even pained in the grooves, at the point at which they would appear on a real record.

The amazing thing is not so much that he made one album cover, but that he made them for so long.  This represents the work of years.  I was reminded of the tin foil sculpture in the museum's folk art collection - where is the line between madness and artistry?

As the wall notes at the beginning of the show state, "His musical career was never real, but everything he made was entirely authentic."

Verdict: If you like R&B or funk music, if you're interested in the musical history of DC, or if you are a fan of outsider art, this show is a can't miss.

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