To accompany the run of Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, the Museum of International Folk Art (MoIFA) has begun an extensive restoration and cleaning of the objects in its Alexander Girard Wing. By the end of the three-to-five-year process, the approximately 10,000 pieces on view in the beloved long-term exhibition Multiple Visions: A Common Bond will be tagged and catalogued for a digital guide to the show.
The Girard Wing was a requirement of the designer’s 1978 gift to the museum, which included the majority of his vast collection of more than 100,000 examples of folk art from more than 100 countries around the world. Multiple Visions is the showcase of that collection. Over a period of two years before the exhibit opened in late 1982, the designer meticulously assembled the eye-popping displays of his folk art figures, toys, and sets, with objects installed at various heights and hanging from the ceiling. He dismissed the museum standard of object labels. Instead, he was intent on immersing visitors in multiple color-blocked worlds unto themselves, visionary vignettes of villages, landscapes, people, dolls, and animals from all over the globe. “Folk art,” he once said, “tells us there are no foreigners.” Many of the dioramas Girard first assembled for The Magic of a People, the folk art exhibition he devised for the 1968 HemisFair international exposition in San Antonio, were re-created in Multiple Visions.
To raise money for the projected $500,000 restoration project, which is also supported by the State of New Mexico and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the museum is holding “A Girard Celebration” on Friday, May 3. The event offers a preview of Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, as well as food, drinks, live music, and auction items from Herman Miller and the Vitra Design Museum, plus a 1961 Girard heart pillow made for Herman Miller’s Textiles & Objects shop.
In his evolution as a folk art collector, said curator of North American and European folk art Laura Addison, “Girard was first very focused on toys — the playfulness of them, the whimsy of them. The idea that these were folk art came later.” He came to champion and commission the work of Cochiti Pueblo sculptor Helen Cordero. Her Storyteller dolls — open-mouthed depictions of human and animal families carrying on the oral tradition — were a particular favorite. In the early ’80s, Addison said, the museum hosted a gathering of artists. “We had this little gathering of Cochiti elders, women who could come and identify each and every one of these figurative pieces and who made it. Even though they weren’t signed, each one had an aesthetic signature.” Addison pointed to Girard’s dizzying array of Oaxacan alebrijes (Mexican sculptures of mythical animals), as the perfect object to collect “for someone who loved color as much as he did.”
Multiple Visions has an updated entrance that still showcases Girard’s iconic man and woman figures, which he modeled after himself and his wife Susan Needham Girard. The welcoming couple stands in a recessed alcove; its floor sports a new coat of AstroTurf-green paint in homage to the original AstroTurf material Girard used for the installation in that alcove. Girard, who his friend Charles Eames described as a “Florentine magpie,” was fond of an Italian proverb that greets visitors to the wing. “Tutto il mondo è paese,” it reads, or “All the world is hometown.” In the new and ever-improving Multiple Visions, Girard continues to invite viewers to experience the vivid hometowns in his mind. — M.B.
▼ “A Girard Celebration,” with honorary chairpersons Alexis and Marshall Girard, chairman Jonathan Parks, food, drinks, music, and auction
▼ 6 p.m. Friday, May 3
▼ Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo, 505-476-1200, internationalfolkart.org
▼ $125; for more information and to bid on auction items, go to museumfoundation.org/girard