Monday, April 09, 2007

Folk, selt-taught, outsider art in Milwaukee

We made an Easter afternoon outing to the Milwaukee Art Museum, including a visit to their Folk, Self-taught, Outsider Art Collection. Bolstered by the acquisition of the renowned Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art in 1989, the collection is one of the nation's best. The strength of MAM's holdings in folk and outsider art is probably why Milwaukee will be the sole Midwestern stop this fall for the American Folk Art Museum's huge Martin Ramirez show, reviewed here by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.

One of the most dramatic pieces of folk art we saw on this trip, however, were these remains of a 1930 Model A Roadster that someone has planted in their front yard on Humboldt Street, along with some big Cadillac pieces and part of an old VW Beetle. OnMilwaukee explains how they got there.
Some folks stick whirling plastic flowers or gnome statues in their yards, but David Jones' and Tony Balistreri's taste in lawn ornaments veers from the path of convention.

The couple, which owns a home in Riverwest, 2659 N. Humboldt Blvd., has three cars "planted" in its front yard: a 1959 Cadillac, a 1930 Model A Roadster and a '69 Volkswagen Beatle.

Balistreri, owner of Downtown Autobody on Holton Street, originally planned to restore the Caddy in honor of his deceased father who loved Cadillacs. However, he quickly realized that the interior was beyond repair even though the auto's exterior was in great shape.

So he did what anyone in that situation would do: He sawed the car in half and planted both pieces in his yard.

Balistreri and Jones hooked up the head and taillights, which still glow every evening, and tried to get their dryer exhaust to waft through the tailpipe and create the illusion of smoke.

"That was a disaster," laughs Jones. "We ended up blowing one of our dryers."

But the fun had only just begun.

A few years later, Balistreri found the Model A inside a badly burned barn in rural Wisconsin. Parts of the car were melted, but Balistreri bought it anyway and sunk it into the yard.
The story goes on to explain the cars have become a Milwaukee landmark, and stories about the installation have appeared aall over the U.S. and as far away as Australia. Today they're a curiosity. Tomorrow, they'll be art.

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