The Madman's Gallery: The Strangest Paintings, Sculptures and Other Curiosities from the History of Art
“Intriguing variety, sharp storytelling, and spectacular images all combine to keep the pages of this emporium turning.”
Fans of Brooke-Hitching’s other titles such as The Sky Atlas, or The Madman’s Library, will not be disappointed with The Madman’s Gallery. Indeed, if one is not yet familiar with Brooke-Hitching, The Madman’s Gallery will encourage deeper discovery into his other books.
Brooke-Hitching has assembled a wild collection of 100 off-beat artworks that span the entire reach of Art History. From pre-historic fertility art of 38,000 BCE to the surrealist art of Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Joan Miró, René Magritte and Dorothea Tanning, quirky stories about humanity abound. He dabbles in unconventional art forms too by considering AI (artificial intelligence) art and performance art in the overall mix.
Presented in more-or-less chronological order, a thread of history winds through the pages to give the reader a loose flow of artistic thought throughout the ages. We see bits and pieces about art materials used by the artists, shifts of interest in subject matter, varieties of geographic locations, and even enter into the age-old debates of what exactly constitutes art. All along the way Brooke-Hitching dips into the stories behind the creations.
With, for example, Central African Minkisi Power Figures (7th–12th centuries), the stories are important. Strange, but meaningful. These wooden animal (or human) figures are pierced with nails, razors, and other sharp objects resembling occult voodoo dolls, aggressive pin cushions, or an acupuncture session gone wrong. They conjure visions of zombies, or perhaps a warning symbol to scare away unwanted visitors.
In reality, minkisi are, “complex instruments of great power that have various functions . . . divination ceremonies . . . protection . . . healing . . . hunting . . . and trading . . . They are deployed to help settle arguments and protect the peace.” The nails and shards lend an intimidating presence in the community and warn against civil misconduct. Instead of instruments of harm or torture, the nails represent various accomplishments. Each time the statue’s power was invoked, or each time a jurisprudence dispute was resolved, or an illness treated, or an evil spirit banished, a nail would be driven into the wood to indicate closure of the incident. These statues represent, “practical objects, regulatory devices essential to maintaining group harmony.” The stories offer fascinating insights into culture, concept, symbolism, and creativity.
Brooke-Hitching has also considered a broad range of concepts in curating his selections. In true art history fashion, one will find nods to just about every theme out there: religion, politics and power, satire, sex, love, food, home life, death, afterlife, dream world, human emotion, and mental psychosis. It is eye opening to realize that people from every millennia in every part of the world from the beginning of time thought about the same things and had similar struggles! We really are not that different from each other in the grand scheme of things.
Intriguing variety, sharp storytelling, and spectacular images all combine to keep the pages of this emporium turning. The Madman’s Gallery is a quick and fun read, or, said with more of a flourish from the book’s own blurb, is “a captivating odditorium of obscure and engaging characters and works, each expertly brought to life by [an] historian and curator of the strange.”