Monday, January 18, 2010

Raven Chanticleer

This is a bit out there, and the MLK Day tie-in is completely coincidental.

I went to catch the last day of a show yesterday at Triple Candie, a nonprofit gallery in Harlem. The exhibit was being dismantled when I arrived, so I ended up attending the opening of an exhibit about Harlem’s African American Wax Museum creator, Raven Chanticleer.
The gallery, which describes itself as “ …a place-based, research-oriented gallery that produces exhibitions about art but largely devoid of it,” write about the show:
From 1989 until his death in 2002, Raven Chanticleer was the owner and sole proprietor of the Harlem African American Wax Museum, housed in the basement of his brownstone on West 115th Street. Consisting of some two-dozen statues -- Frederick Douglass, Mother Hale, Madonna (yes, the Material Girl) -- paintings, African sculpture, and other items, the museum was a total-work-of-art.
Chanticleer made the two-dozen life-size statues himself from chicken wire, paper-mache’, and beeswax and though some bore only scant resemblance to their subjects, neither mimetic nor historical accuracy were his primary concern. His goal was the creation of an ambitious installation that would outlive him and be his crowning achievement. The museum no longer exists. When Chanticleer died, his nieces and nephews gutted the museum and sold the brownstone, over the objections of many of Chanticleer’s friends. The family, which is deeply religious, remains determined to obliterate every trace of the man and his art, in part, many believe, because they refuse to condone Chanticleer’s “flamboyant” lifestyle. This thoroughly researched exhibition -- consisting of photographs and ephemera -- will, we hope, be a first step towards re-establishing Chanticleer’s legacy.
With no actual wax sculptures to install, Triple created paper mache sculptures of local Harlem characters, in “homage”. The real flavor of Raven Chanticleer, however, is on the walls, which are covered with newspaper clippings, photographs, and other ephemera pertaining to his life and career.

The photos, below, are of the museum, dismantled.
Photos by Nikki Johnson
Though the museum was his passion, there was plenty more to Raven than wax. He attended FIT and the Sorbonne, designed clothes for Bergdorf Goodman, and founded a dance troupe. He held a fashion show in a prison of mannequins in see-through garb, and was committed to designing clothing for “stout, voluptuous women”. Way before green was chic, he designed furniture and objects from found and reused materials, and promoted thrift and recycling with his 50 tips for “How to live well on a shoestring!”

From his New York Times obit in 2002:
One of the most convincing statues is that of the great African-American artist Raven Chanticleer. Mr. Chanticleer explained in a radio interview last year that he included his own likeness ''just in case something should happen to me, if they didn't carry out my wishes and my dreams of this wax museum I would come back and haunt the hell out of them.''

For all his bravado, Mr. Chanticleer was serious about teaching youngsters the importance of black history and economic self-sufficiency. He started a foundation called the Learning Tree that gave toys to needy children. And Mr. Chanticleer was passionate about fixing up Harlem, whether it meant chasing drug dealers off his doorstep or lobbying public officials.”

WNET's “Hidden New York” site has a panoramic clip of the museum.
Back to Haunt the Hell Out of You -- The Splendid and Bragadocious Raven Chanticleer
January 17-April 4, 2010
Triple Candie is located at 500 W. 148th St.
Hours: Thurs-Sun, 1-6 pm

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