Lil Miss Boo's Yesterdays

“Walking through Walls” is a new exhibition by Gary Baseman at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York (March 5 – April 2, 2011).

He recently sent me copy of his exhibit “manifesto.” Here are some excerpts:

I have thought for a long time about the notion of being able to “walk through walls,” moving through the different divisions of society, challenging expectations, and finding freedom. Although created to give us all a sense of order, walls are often, at least to me, impediments to living fully. In art, too, there are boundaries. Throughout my career as an artist, I have heard others tell me what I could and could not do, but my need to experiment creatively made me cross a lot of confining lines. Demonstrating the term I coined, Pervasive Art, I work in any possible medium that I feel is appropriate for my art.

For my last major exhibition in 2009, “La Noche de la Fusión,” I created a mythical holiday – when the restrictive walls of society that dictate how we should live, dress, or behave, melt away in order for all of us to discover, accept, and love our “True Selves.” In this current exhibition, “Walking through Walls,” I go beyond something celebratory to something more reflective and sometimes solemn. I created a new iconic character, Lil Miss Boo, who is a little girl in a homemade ghost costume. I wanted to use her rather than a “real” ghost, to emphasize the true absurdity of trying to physically walk through walls.

For this exhibit he has created a character, which Baseman describes here:

The Lil Miss Boo character, whom I also call Muertita or La Petite Mort, which means “little death” in both Spanish and French, respectively, is actually based on a real girl in a photograph, from my collection of about 2000 original vintage photographs of people in masks and costumes. So, Lil Miss Boo is actually my very first non-fiction character. Although non-professional photographers mostly took these photos, to me these are true works of art. For nearly 20 years I have collected and have been inspired by these photographs, but this is the first time I have used elements from the photos in an exhibition. I have used found photography in the past as ephemera that I would paint on, but the mask photos have always been too precious to me to alter physically. So, to finally find a way to incorporate these into my art is a breakthrough.

Childhood is a recurring theme for Baseman, and his Lil Miss Boo appears to represent that spirit:

Lil Miss Boo, besides being the main icon in this exhibition, represents “the keeper of our childhood memories.” She resembles my Magi spirits that I have used in the past, who generally are the keepers of all our memories. The photographs, which date back to the early 20th century to the 1960s, remind me of my own earlier beliefs about truth, love, God, responsibility, hope, and fate. As a child, I believed all of these in the most absolute objective forms, so everything became the “Absolute Objective Truth, the Absolute Objective Love,” etc. These beliefs were the foundation of who I was all the way through college. Becoming an adult, I slowly lost these absolute beliefs to understand a more mature subjective form of all of these.

As is true with so much of his work, this exhibit  is symbolic autobiography:

Throughout this series, there are remnants of my artistic and personal past, as there is experimentation with new ideas. I have memorialized both real and imagined people in many of the works. Overall, the sense of deep loss has affected my artistic palette in a very “gray” way. Gray is the color in this new body of work. The bright palette of my earlier exhibitions is gone as I explore the murky themes in this series. While I invite all viewers of my artwork to come up with their own interpretations, “Walking through Walls” allows me to bring together the objective truths of childhood with the subjective beliefs of adulthood, while facing the absolutes of mortality.

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