Loste in Tyme: An Appreciation of Kore Loy Wildrekinde-McWhirter
Curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings
The Art Institute of Chicago
As a curator working at a renowned art museum, I receive a lot of mail. I receive mail addressed to me, which is considerable in volume, but also the duplicate mail from colleagues, who automatically place theirs into my mailbox; this includes all the mail they receive from galleries and general questions about work by any artist who lived after 1900. Sometimes this bothers me, because I have to waste time sifting through everyone else’s mail, forcing me to make several extra trips to the recycling bin every week. Frequently the mail I receive fits into a category I refer to as clueless. These are blind mailers, generally printed pieces with abbreviated resumes, a few reproductions of works of art, and a pithy invitation to contact the artist if I’m interested in learning more about them. I assume that this is a misguided “career planning” exercise that is encouraged by some colleges and universities, where the faculty recommend sending mass mailing to curators who can be found on some mailing list, but without investigating what their specialty is, or what kind of collection or exhibition program their museum has.
Every now and then, I receive a piece of mail cold, from an artist who I’ve never met nor heard of, but whose approach is so pure and guileless, that I take special notice (because of the mail problem, I no longer have time to answer every unsolicited inquiry). It helps if the work looks interesting, and there is something memorable about the letter. Sometime in early 2005, I received a letter and page of slides from a kore loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter. She[UA1] said that my colleague, Marilyn Kushner encouraged the artist to write me, and to show me their work, and inquire about opportunities to exhibit in Chicago. The tone of the letter failed to reveal the gender or age of the writer, but they seemed inexperienced with self-promotion. However, I was stunned by the writer’s name, earnest evocation of old English, by their strange and beautiful handwriting—even the ink they used had a handmade look to it—and, not least by the very retardataire qualities of the etchings.
I took my time writing back to kore loy, and showed the work, and read the letter to a seminar class of advanced printmaking students that I teach every year at School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). I wondered what their take would be, especially because they are a typical mix of young artists interested by but somewhat suspicious of traditional printmaking, and without any special need to produce work with an awareness of historical precedents. It was clear to me that a sophisticated and technically advanced artist produced wildrekinde-mcwhirter’s etchings. The images, which turned out to be part of the artist’s portfolio redhanded: a songe forre the loste, were frighteningly violent. But, I also sensed a strange utopian, comedic, and otherworldly presence in them. Universally, the students were equally intrigued by the work, and impressed by but suspicious of the letter—who in the 21st century, writes like a 15th century scribe they wondered, unless they are seriously affected? I think this idea engaged them the most; how to come up with a really unusual hook to get someone to pay attention to you. loy would say that this is a typically cynical, smart-ass idea that would only occur to someone who is consumed with the art world as it is constructed by the art mafia.
When I finally wrote back to the artist, I was very careful to be professional and encouraging. I briefly explained our acquisitions policy without making any commitments, and I suggested that the work was “interesting in a nostalgic sort of way,
and yes, I’d say that aspects of them remind me somewhat of Jiri Anderle, and some of the Czech artists of the 1970s. There is a very darkly comedic quality that also recalls some of the underground cartoonists who came to prominence in the late 1960s—S. Clay Wilson, for example.” I also made a suggestion for her to contact a dealer in Chicago who specializes in 19th century French printmakers such as Charles Meryon and Felix Bracquemond, but also showed work by Erik Desmazières, who like wildrekinde-mcwhirter, makes technically brilliant prints with serious and dense content. At some later point, and I cannot recall if we exchanged another letter, email (doubtful until recently) or a phone call, I wondered out loud about what century she lived in. The total effect of her presentation seemed so completely lived in the time of Dürer, that I worried she would think I was patronizing her. She may have thought so (she has referred to me in a letter as a “sardonicke ande generouse soulle”), but as I eventually learned, I wasn’t far off.
Fast forward several months, when the artist contacted me again to say she (I knew by now that she is a woman), and her husband would be visiting Chicago to perform at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, and would it be possible to meet with me. I arranged for her to show her work to my seminar class, and coincidentally discovered that her husband, Bruce Greene is a fiddler with a fantastic repertoire of old-time stylings and an archivist of songs from Appalachia (it turned out that he was the inspiration for my good friend in Chicago, to take up the fiddle when he turned forty, and he was ecstatic at the chance of meeting Bruce). loy arrived with a box of her prints, which we laid out for students to look at, and after I introduced her, we all were stunned by her fantastic story behind the work.
loy’s introduction to redhanded: a songe forre the loste is so complete that I would be foolish to try to recapitulate it here. What I will say is that my initial reaction to the work without the back-story, was very close to what she has to say about it. There is something about a utopian society, except that in her experience, it failed miserably, hence the sadness, violence and foreboding that pervade the printed images and texts that accompany them. Like Francisco Goya’s Los caprichos, or his Desastres, we see in loy’s work the catastrophic aftermath of senseless inhumanity perpetrated on innocents, yet at the same time, the artists leave us a sense of the humor and folly of our race’s transgressions. And like Goya and other great social commentators, wildrekinde-mcwhirter has hidden much in the images that is personal and nearly opaque. At the same time, she has found a universal truth through what appears to be fantasy, that disturbing things can happen to those who are unprotected. With good fortune, persistence, and will, those who have been injured survive, and with any luck they are able to pass along what they have learned so that others might be spared a similar fate. Fortunately for our generation, loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter, through her own will to tell her story, has had the persistence, focus and desire to learn to draw, etch, print, set type, design and construct her own housings, and hit the road to spread her gospel. I, for one, am grateful to her.