It’s impossible to approach the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s newly opened “Create” exhibition like any other art exhibition, because its creators aren’t just any other artists. The 20 painters, drawers, photographers, sculptors, mixed-media maestri and video artists who contributed the 100-plus pieces in “Create” all suffer from developmental disabilities, and they’ve been honing their craft at three noble nonprofits: The National Institute for Art and Disabilities Art Center, Creativity Explored, and Creative Growth Art Center.
The resulting pieces are often crude, scrappily unpolished head-scratchers, but each and every selection needn’t reinvent the art wheel to move receptive museumgoers: The very fact that these works exist is an inspiration, and a testament to the necessity of art to foster creativity, expression and emotion in a community that has, in many cases, been written off by society at large. That many of these pieces are, in fact, museum-worthy in the strictest designation of the term only takes this venture to higher strata.
William Scott, for instance, is a great example of a disabled artist who has broken into the mainstream art world at large, inspiring collectors and galleries to exhibit him; two of his selections in “Create” were donated by none other than David Byrne and Cindy Sherman. It’s easy to see why. His close-ups of proud, whimsical and defiant African-American faces speaks to his specialty as a minority within a minority, and he expresses a bold command of color and eccentricity, like the small sun and ringed planet framing his subject’s face in “Inner Limits.”
And I was even more taken with the work of Aurie Ramirez, a spectacular painter whose depictions of proscribed femininity, vanity, materialism and gossip amid Barbiefied dreamhouses offer powerful social commentary and critical acumen. Her creations’ faces are replaced by clownish/macabre character masks that flaunt their artificiality and plasticity, suggesting a sort of Tim Burton animated fantasia shot through a post-feminist lens.
In the works of these two transcendent artists, their developmental handicaps are almost nonexistent; for other artists, their disabilities no doubt contribute to the strangeness and implacability that the pieces engender, which might even make them more vital to our discourse and understanding of what art can be. It takes a certain kind of mind, perhaps, to conceive Attillio Crescenti’s masterful ink drawings of spheroid creatures with gaping mouths, beady eyes, oddly divided body hair and endless fingers and toes. They could either be ghoulish villains in a horror movie or the gentle protagonists of a children’s fantasy; beauty and meaning are in the eye of the beholder.
It’s also unlikely that a fully cognitive artist would produce the staggering, frenzied line collages of Dan Miller; Daniel Green’s manic word salads of popular culture facts and figures scrawled all over pieces of recycled wood; or Jeremy Burleson’s makeshift, uneven miner’s-style lamps, taped together with paper, marker and TLC and hanging from the museum ceiling by the dozens.
It may be natural to feel pity for some of the artists, when the works seem to showcase the pain they’re feeling inside. Michael B. Loggins’ 24-page zine “The Fears of Your Life,” which the museum has spread out horizontally on a large wall, contains 136 of the artists’ fears, or at least his perceived fears of “us,” as a collective. The numbered list includes such far-reaching items as “fear of sexually abused,” “fear of blob,” “fear of ghost stories in the dark room” and “fear of tall women.”
The list is impossible to look away from and heartbreaking to think about, until you realize that for the artist, this could very well be the most coherent therapy he will receive: an opportunity to exorcise whatever improbable demons are plaguing them. I can only end this review by suggesting that for any politician considering slashing support for arts-based nonprofits to take a long hard look at the positive change these institutions, and exhibits like this, are making on these artists’ very sense of well-being and their place in the world. I won’t be forgetting this show’s impact anytime soon.
"Create" is on display through Sept. 22 at Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Admission costs $5 to $8, or free for members. Call 561/392-2500 or visit bocamuseum.org.