As founder, director and principal curator of the American Visionary Art Museum, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger has selected every one of the museum’s exhibition themes since its inaugural exhibition in 1995. As the museum prepares to open “The Great Mystery Show” on Oct. 7, Jmore spoke with Hoffberger about what’s in store for AVAM visitors. 

  1. Why focus on the theme of mystery?

I agree with Einstein’s sentiments that mystery is the essential juice behind great art and great science, and that our innate sense of mystery is what drives theological and spiritual quests. We all start out life as little question machines, i.e., “Why is the sky blue, Mommy?” Even Einstein declared, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” As we grow and age, our hard-wired need for answers and meaning progresses. We ask questions like, “Is there life after death?” or “Why do terrible things happen to good people?” Here, Einstein offers more sage solace: “God does not play dice with the universe” — his assertion that life is not random, nor casually conceived nor without purpose.

  1. What’s the exhibition about?

“The Great Mystery Show” peels away the veil of the unknown and playfully explores all things mystery. I like to say it is one part fun house, two parts cosmic dream lab, all with an Edward Gorey-esque, Victoriana feel. 

  1. So science, art and spirituality are more similar than they seem?

Yes! They all seek to answer the ancient questions — what and why we came to be. I adore foremost fresh thought and creative invention that gives revelation, so my interest in science has always been fierce. There is now a great humility in science because so many discoveries, especially in space science, have acted to upend so much of what they had believed was true. So exciting to be in a time where new discovery acts to deepen the wonder. I try to put aspects of this dance of creativity and science in all our artful shows.  

  1. How does “The Great Mystery Show” blend science, art and spirituality?

The exhibition weaves together the creations of 44 visionary artists and the work of research scientists, astronauts, mystics and philosophers. It’s 100 percent devoted to inspiring that ever-questioning “sleuth for the truth” in each of us. No “alternative facts” here, just a visual exaltation of the strangeness and wonder of the gift and intelligence of life. I’m especially thrilled to be showing Louie Schwartzberg’s film “Gratitude: Moving Art.” He’s a genius, an award-winning cinematographer and a son of Holocaust survivors who uses time lapse photography to film nature — flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds — from conception to full flower of being.

  1. Fall public programs?

We’re planning so many. “The Great Mystery Show” Preview Party for artists, members and the general public is on Oct. 6. There’s the “Shiny Happy Things Workshop” with Bob Benson on Oct. 14. We’ll be making sparkling decorations resembling the Universal Tree of Life outside the museum’s main entrance. There’s our free Halloween Celebration on Oct. 26 and our Celestial Gala on Nov. 18. The gala will honor Diane Ackerman, Pulitzer Prize-nominee and author of “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” and Richard Garriott, the first person to organize an art exhibition in space, an astronaut and a famous game designer.

For information on “The Great Mystery Show” and the American Visionary Art Museum, visit avam.org.

Also see: Talking With 18 of the Jewish Community’s Leading Lights

 

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