CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
Outsider and Outlier Art... Art is anything that isn't anything else.
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ARTS BIO FOR BARRY FERST
Dr. Barry Joel Ferst has no formal education in art, and though it shows in his work, he continues to produce assemblages of American kitsch oblivious to this deficiency and his many other disabilities. What he makes is Urban Folk Art.
It is true that some time ago Ferst took an art history course at the University of Illinois and submitted a term paper meticulously ornamented with cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and depleted ketchup and mustard packets scavenged from a fast-food restaurant. It is also true that he travels extensively in the USA and more extensively in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and whenever parking lot, Gothic cathedral, Umayyad mosque, or Ottoman market pushes him past the redline of satiation, he wanders into a museum or art gallery to pass a fascinating hour conversing in English, French, or Yiddish with a curator or doyen who speaks only Armenian but insists that he or she is the possessor of a multicultural multi-lingualness that requires a WWII code breaker to fully appreciate.
What Ferst does is collect kitsch and along with buzzers, LEDS, and very small motors that run very slowly and very silently, arrange the stuff in boxes or free-standing sculptures. Tie tacks, bracelets, watches, plastic angels, butter dishes, masks, garters, toys, and celebratory or commemorative tchotchkes that run the gamut of religious fantasies are fair game. False teeth are not beyond the pale. Hundreds of pieces go into a composition, which might display the objects for what they are, or the pieces might be re-employed in a way that conveys the bizarre insights that allow Ferst to successfully navigate other people’s grasp on reality.
If Ferst’s urban folk art constructions have a theme, any insight might regard the quaint activities in which Americans participate to embellish their lives or the things they purchase to make the refrigerator door more attractive. His work is more like Cornell Wilde than Joseph Cornell.
At 76, Ferst is much too old to know better, but it is difficult to remove him from his workshop when he becomes enthusiastic over a piece of Americana and gets lost in mental revelry and mayhem. Because he never had a midlife crisis, his marriage did not fail, credit card debt is non-existent, and he has never ordered anything from LL Bean—he has been unable to understand Minimalism, Conceptualism, or why any form of entertainment is better than Walmart at 3 A.M.
If anyone wishes to know more, that individual could review Ferst’s academic vita where fourteen boring pages state that he is a philosophy professor whose life can be summed up in unreadable publications. His Ph.D. (Tulane University, philosophy, 1976) has allowed him to subject others to courses in Western Humanities and aesthetics. Nevertheless, the truth is that Ferst prefers to hide any successes that the gods fortuitously have bestowed upon him and remain a denier of his own meager abilities and the harm he has unleashed on others.
He can find no one willing to act as a reference.
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