One of a Kind
Evidence of a society of Little People has been turning up in unexpected places. Dwellings of their civilization were first noticed in 1970 in corners of vacant lots and decaying tenements on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Sightings have since been made as far away as Europe and China. The most impressive find was made last year at New York's Guggenheim Museum, where a 26-foot-by-10-foot remnant of the Little People culture (left) dominated the ground floor. Made of unfired clay, the miniature adobelike structures seemed to have been the result of a volcanic eruption.
No one has actually seen these tiny folk, not even sculptor Charles Simonds, 39, who admits to being the creative force behind these fanciful structures. "I don't see Little People walking around, I want to make that very clear," says the Manhattan-raised, Berkeley-educated son of retired psychoanalysts. But then he adds quickly, "These dwellings are an invitation to the Little People to come."
To his neighbors in north Georgia, Howard Finster is known as "the man with all the junk." But in the art world, the 68-year-old former preacher, mill worker and bicycle repairman is one of this country's foremost folk artists. All 4,000 works from his 10-year career, including a two-acre sculpture garden (right), result, he claims, from divinely inspired visions.
He sculpts using radio tubes and washing-machine parts, and he paints on sides of old cars. "I do art to get my messages across," Finster says, adding with a nod to the Divine, "He shows me exactly what to do."
Welcome to the Woo World, where an undulating green mass bounds across a stage, flanked by inflatable envelopes of multicolored parachute cloth. Inhabited by human bodies, the cloth forms gradually transmute into fantastic flora-and fauna-like shapes. All are the brainchild of performance artist Woofy Bubbles, a/k/a Christopher Hodge. The Philadelphia-based 40-year-old son of a botanist, Hodge and his Woo World Players have performed from New York to San Francisco and have been likened to Kabuki, but Hodge rejects labels. "What I'm involved in is being elusive, in turning an idea on its end," he says. "I think people take it all more seriously than they should."
F. Scott Fitzgerald had Zelda, Dali had wife Gala, and George Burns had Grade. Conceptual artist William Wegman, 41, had Man Ray, a slate gray weimaraner named after the late Dada artist. During their 12-year collaboration, Ray served as the centerpiece of hundreds of Wegman's photos, drawings and video works. His first shot of Ray showed the dog, still a pup, asleep on a sofa. "I had a stuffed squirrel and alligator that snuck up on him as if he were having a bad dream," says the East Longmeadow, Mass. native. The resulting four-picture sequence, Dog Dream, has since become a classic.
What Wegman most admired about Ray was "his deadpan face. He looked as if he wouldn't laugh at his own jokes. Yet," he adds, "he never lost his nobility." His photos of Ray hang today in many top U.S. museums. Individual prints have fetched up to $6,000.
When Ray died in 1982, Wegman focused his cameras on children and bodybuilder friend Eve Darcy. But two years ago he was introduced to a part-dalmatian mutt, Charlie (above). It marked the beginning of a new partnership. "He's not a professional," Wegman says of Charlie, "but he is becoming remarkably responsive to the camera."
He is currently engaged in a seven-year project to reshape the 14-acre bowl of Arizona's 510,000-year-old Roden Crater (right) to create "a kind of planetarium," complete with tunnels and chambers that will serve as a natural celestial observatory. But whether tunneling or fashioning aerial skywriting pieces over Pasadena, Calif., as he did in 1968, 41-year-old environmental artist James Turrell believes he is really "working with light and its ability to permeate, alter and create space." A Pasadena native who majored in perceptual psychology at Pomona College, Turrell has had his works shown from Jerusalem to Japan and earlier this year received a $204,000 MacArthur Foundation award. Still some critics belittle him as an illusionist who merely creates light shows. The criticism hurts. "My work is intended to pose new ways of seeing things," he states. Sometimes he gets surprising results. For example, visitors to his 1980 show at Manhattan's Whitney Museum of American Art mistook two of his light works for solid walls and fell when they leaned against them. "I didn't intend for that to happen," the artist quips, "but it's nice when someone really falls for your work."