Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Chidester, the curator of Melancholy Menagerie – a Big Eyes Art exhibition that’s currently showing at Fullerton Museum Center (California, USA). The exhibition is anchored by the artworks of Margaret Keane whose life is going to be portrayed in Tim Burton‘s upcoming biographical movie called “Big Eyes” starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.
According to the museum’s docent, this exhibition stemmed out of Kelly’s graduate thesis. So, I asked her to tell me the reason she picked the theme, and how she managed to turn her thesis into a full blown art exhibition that features the works of numerous artists including Tim Burton, Mark Ryden, Camilla d’Errico, Yosuke Ueno, Sas Christian, Camille Rose Garcia, and many others.
“Melancholy Menagerie came about after I started noticing many similarities in the characters depicted in vintage decorative arts form the 60s and 70s and the characters in contemporary artworks. Many of these images depicted sad and wistful children with large, sometimes teary eyes. I started to ask myself why this character held such a fascination with not only the artist, but also the collectors. Certainly there have been quite a few people who have questioned the idea of this genre of work being in a museum. I think its interesting that something so recognizable and familiar to so many can be disregarded so easily. In a way, it makes perfect sense to honor a genre of work by giving it a context and place in time. I think the contemporary artworks on display only reinforce this idea.
I myself am attracted to the works as well! I find them kind of mesmerizing! And so the idea behind the exhibition started to evolve into a display of similarities between our past and current fascination with Big Eye art. The Fullerton Museum Center, where I am employed as the Operations Assistant, graciously agreed to host the exhibition as part of my fulfillment for a masters degree in Exhibition Design at Cal State Fullerton- so it was really a collaboration between the two institutions. At first it was difficult to get lenders to agree to show their artworks but once the ball got rolling, people started approaching us with their Big Eye art! I think collectors started to realize that this was an opportunity to display something that has been marginalized by the art world in a formal setting and context. And it all came together!
We were also fortunate to have artist Fawn Gehweiler create a limited edition and numbered poster for the exhibition which is available to the public in our gift shop. There will also be a closing day panel discussion on the genre of Big Eye art which will be held here at the Fullerton Museum on July 27th at 2:00PM. I hope you can make it!”
Image #01: Patrons discussing Cloud Dragon (Positive Energy No.8) by Yosuke Ueno
Image #02: Patrons discussing the works of Vicki Berndt
Image #03: Sun Dutchess by Camilla d’Errico
Image #04: Artwork by Sas Christian
Image #05: Vintage painting by Igor Pantuhoff
Image #06: “Reality Theater” by Timothy Robert Smith
Image #07: Works by Gig and Maio
Image #08: Painting by Margaret Keane
Image #09: Works by Ana Bagayan, Matthew J. Price, and Mab Graves
Image #10: Vintage and contemporary Blythe dolls
Image #11: Greg Escalante
Image #12: Bronze sculpture by Yosuke Ueno
(All photographs, except images #03, #04, and #08, are courtesy of Kelly Chidester)