Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Blasts from the Past

Anyone in Atlanta who recalls Lisa Fischman’s 2002 “Paradise in Search of a Future” show at the Contemporary will be delighted at the chance to see Walid Raad’s video work on November 6 and the man himself on November 7 in ART PAPERS LIVE! at Emory University.

Details at

Raad is remembered here for the Atlas Group project, featuring a full typology of all the models of automobiles involved in car bombings during the long Lebanese civil war, itself an event which has since gone through re-runs and sequels.

I saw Raad’s stuff first at the Contemporary, then a few months later at Documenta 11.

This visit will be different, and will include screenings at Emory University’s White Hall that you will not see elsewhere in Atlanta, and in very few locations anywhere else outside the inner circles of the art world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

my disorganization is your opportunity

For a different take on Deconform, and a couple of brilliantly written pieces from August and September regarding the Atlanta art scene, please check out Ghostmap Microwave:

I shall also take this opportunity to market the catalogue of Dreams, Bright and Dark, the StudioSwan show I curated in June. The volume is now for sale on

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

while waiting for a genuine review of stokes gallery

Meryl Truett's aforementioned "Magic Beach Motel" photograph.

Monday, October 22, 2007

reification, counterforces and other boatloads of laughs

I began Counterforces and Other Little Jokes with the notion of filling in the gaps in Atlanta art criticism (for one) and using the blog as a platform for launching a magazine that would address all the issues in global art that the global art world is not addressing. (A tall order, but I would have settled for a tiny fraction of all the unaddressed issues, at least for the first year or so.)

But I find I don’t have the emotional and physical energy to do the problems of Atlanta adequately, never mind keeping up with the problems of getting Moldova straightened out and set before the world. (I did find a Moldovan coin lying on the exit ramp of one of my recent flights; it was a small, weightless piece of aluminum such as I hadn’t seen since the German Democratic Republic put itself out of business in 1990.)

I have always used Moldova as an incidental example because it is one of those post-Soviet states that is an accident of World War II compounded by the accidents of the USSR’s abrupt breakup; its frontiers are the result of a forcible Russian-Romanian border adjustment, and its turmoils of identity would provide subject matter for a hundred artists. But I don’t know even one of them, though I probably would if I had the catalogues for all of the world’s biennials.

In any case, it seems like I should devote Counterforces to an occasional digging myself out of the holes into which I have gotten myself on geographically specialized ground, while leaving joculum as the blog that circles round the big issues of interpretation, cross-cultural theory, and topics of imagination and fantasy, and what may or may not be fantasy even though it seems fantastic. In practice, this just means that both blogs are going to be impossibly idiosyncratic, like the art shows I curate, and polluted with self-absorbed side comments. (The late feminist artist and critic Thomasine Bradford remarked that she was satisfied if critics acknowledged their subject position in passing, i.e. this is being written by a heterosexual male somewhere past the middle of middle age, but she died before blogs made the establishment of the position of the subject into the writing’s main subject.)

When I wrote in the Deconform post that Ezra Pound was at what some would call the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Situationists, I was being exceptionally mischievous. Pound was an irascible, nasty bit of business given to singular self-deception; If the boy from Hailey, Idaho could be so taken with Renaissance Italy that he was taken in by Mussolini’s claim to be providing harmony and universal social welfare through the corporate state, if he could admire the macho authoritarianism of the Renaissance prince to the point of confusing Fascist pomposity with auctoritas, if he thought he could mend Fascism’s remaining flaws by convincing the dictator to read Confucius…well, what more need I say about that?

A lot, actually. Pound’s bitter exclamation regarding the First World War “There died a myriad, and of the best among them, for an old bitch gone in the teeth, for a botched civilization, for a few hundred broken statues, for a few thousand battered books” does not sound like the words of a man who wanted to modify rather than topple. But would-be remakers of the State have often been convinced that it all went wrong some centuries back and can be set right if people stop clinging to the ossified social order that worships the books and the statues instead of the energies and insights that gave birth to the society in the first place.

And this is part of what the various left-oriented theories mean by “reification”…the solidification into immutable laws of nature, into things, of what are really flexible human relations of power and cooperation that can be changed. (Actually, that isn’t what reification means to most of the theorists, but as Humpty Dumpty said, meaning is a question of who is to be master, after all, the words or the writer.)

Pound eventually figured out that his obnoxious personality and his blinkered anti-Semitism and his misreading of the soruces of power had made the Cantos into something of a mess, but what it is of interest is that the prewar aesthetic revolutionary, finding the onward march of reform blocked by the catastrophe of the Great War (as they called World War I before there was a second one to give the first one a number), decided that a new politics was needed to undergird the reformation of the aesthetic order.

Guy Debord, having read the same books as Pound in the course of his classical education, incorporated certain historic energies and attitudes into his not completely different agenda, as did Pound. The Futurists of Pound’s generation, who really did want to blow up the museums, ended up celebrating Mussolini’s high-tech bombing runs rather than his efforts to reformulate a static social order. (How the various twentieth century dictators muddled up people’s responses to technology and their own local history would be a topic for a separate post. Someday.)

Whittaker Chambers, who became the darling of the American conservative movement for having outed the urbane Alger Hiss’s spying on behalf of Stalin’s boys (which, depending on which recent book you read, is either proven definitively or not documented at all in the surviving files of Soviet intelligence services), baffled them by declaring himself a man of the Right and saying that capitalism was inherently anti-conservative. This is, of course, exactly what the Communist Manifesto says, that capitalism has dissolved all historic social relations and turned every human interaction into a cash transaction in which the only value is defined by money. Chambers began his autobiography with an account of the life-endangering jobs in which he was a helpless pawn paid a pittance to act as a readily replacement unit of labor. He renounced the revolution when it became evident to him that it, too, treated human beings as readily replaceable units of labor, but provided a theory for why someday this was all going to pay off in social betterment. Chambers’ real heroes were the anarchists who wanted the social betterment here and now, in mutual aid, and would not put up with the brutalization of yet another generation of workers even for the sake of the radiant future. He ended up backing the world of Eisenhower’s America because it seemed to him like the better of two bad choices. In the same years, the writers of the Beat Generation were trying to navigate past Scylla and Charybdis with a mutually incompatible mixture of drugs, alcohol and Buddhism, while Kenneth Rexroth gamely argued that it was possible to embrace progressive values without going to work for someone else’s foreign office.

All of the confusions and tensions I’ve laid out thus far are illustrated in a hilariously oblique parody video, called Revolution, by Shiqiang Gao, a young artist who lives in Shanghai and whose work was shown in the Shanghai and Beijing Biennials. This video is currently on view through November 1 at the Granite Room in Atlanta’s Castleberry arts district, for those of you readers within driving distance.

The video presents a misery-ridden slum society on a city rooftop. Wrapping himself in a red cloak, a man declares himself king of the revolution and, accompanied by his “running dogs” (as the quirky subtitles have it), sets out to fulfill the people’s unmet desires for food and sex and leisure. In fact, he forbids them to work, and eventually forbids them to wash their own feet, reserving that task for himself and his running dogs.

Pretty soon the people are groaning in misery at being forced to eat more food than anyone can possibly consume, at being commanded to show up at the palace to have their feet washed even after their skin has been rubbed raw, and at being ordered to achieve climax with an ever greater number of sexual partners. Would-be rebels against this society organized for the people’s benefit are punished by being compelled to eat and have sex and have their feet washed completely beyond human capacity.

The malcontents among the people grumble that the king is keeping all the work for himself and they should be allowed to share in the work, too. Instead of making love, they would be making business deals, like the people in the rich, busy world they can see down there below their rooftop. Come the revolution, all the people could work and sweat and make business deals, instead of spending their days in an enforced round of food and sex and idleness on a miserable rooftop.

So the leaders of the new revolution depose the king who worked for the people’s benefit and forbade the people to work. But as soon as the people begin cheering at the prospect of being able to work and make business deals, a phalanx of police officers shows up and orders everyone off the rooftop, saying, “Rooftops are not for living on! Clean out all this trash! Everyone out!”

The video arrived in Atlanta with image and sound separately encrypted, requiring some technical wizardry in order to screen it for an audience that may or may not understand the allegory.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

the re-return of the durutti column

I can't find the American version/translation, which was superimposed on an American comic book image, but I find that the original in "The Return of the Durutti Column" was speech-ballooned onto a movie still. The page from which I take this information is quoted below. Its lack of theoretical and historical comprehension is actually pretty valuable; the author has apparently never read the technical term "reification" so it is interpreted speculatively as any ordinary French-speaking reader would have read it. Buenaventura Durruti (not Durutti) was a Spanish anarchist who organized the Durruti Column as a counterforce against Franco's army early in the Spanish Civil War.

Anyone who knows vintage punk rock is already familiar with this history, of course.

Here is the relevant text from

Le Retour de la Colonne Durutti was a 4-page Situationist comic by Andre Bertrand given away at Strasbourg University in October 1966. The image of the two Situationist cowboys was also used on a poster and inspired both the name of the group The Durutti Column and the name of the name of their first album 'The Return of The Durutti Column'.

A slightly modified version of the image also appeared on the FAC 3.11 poster given away to members of the now defunct "Durutti Database". Most of the copies were water damaged, though pristine copies do exist.
Transcript of the cowboys' conversation

Cowboy 1: "What's your scene, man?"
Cowboy 2: "Realisation*"
Cowboy 1: "Yeah? I guess that means pretty hard work with big books and piles of paper on a big table."
Cowboy 2: "Nope. I drift. Mostly I just drift."

* Other possible translations of the original French "Reification" include: exemplification, expression, formation, incarnation, inclusion, incorporation, integration, manifestation, organisation, personification, structure, systematisation.

deconforming spectacularly

On the passage of a few people through a very brief moment in time: notes Suggested by The Spectacle Issue of Deconform

I like the catalogues of Situationist retrospectives, and a lot of the recent literature on or anthologizing Situationism. I saw one show in London and one is Paris; the Paris book, if I recall correctly, had an unpleasantly shiny mirrored cover, while the London catalogue was boards covered in sandpaper. There was no way to replace or remove it from your bookshelf without destroying or damaging the books around it.

That abrasiveness, of course, was an excellent metaphor for the Situationist displacement of categories, which has to be updated in each succeeding generation. The idea of the dérive was all too easily translated into the purposelessness of the slacker generation of the 1980s and part of the 1990s. (Cf. the classic Situationist appropriation of a Western comic strip that shows two cowboys riding along; I have it in the French original, but the English translation, in its appropriation and displacement of the technical terminology of the classic Western, is nothing short of brilliant, even if the initial setup line reeks of the 1960s when it was written (this is quoted from memory):

COWBOY 1: What’s your thing, man?
COWBOY 2: Reification.
COWBOY 1: Wow. Guess that means sitting with a lot of thick books at a big library table.
COWBOY 2: Nope. I just drift. Mostly, I just drift.

The Spectacle Issue of the Atlanta/Decatur magazine Deconform, with its muted cover quoting the classic 1950s photo of a movie audience wearing 3-D glasses that adorns the American edition of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, pays homage to the Situationist heritage both with a channeled “interview” with Guy Debord and with the anti-spectacular design of the publication, Seldom has something been more carefully created to be overlooked. It pretty much disappears into invisibility even when the competition for attention is the all black-and-whtie front page of the Emory University newspaper in a downtown Decatur coffeehouse.

But it raises the issue of how one passes the lessons of one generation into succeeding ones. I was struck, reading the translation of Debord’s autobiography, at how ironically literate a human being Debord really was; when not being opaque for strategic reasons, he showed off the influence of the thorough grounding in European civilization that was his inheritance by virtue of being a member of the generation of French intellectuals from which he sprang.

And I was vaguely reminded of how, as Hugh Kenner remarked, Ezra Pound (on the other end of the political spectrum, some thought) took for granted an excellent formal education that onky needed to be modified in a few significant ways; what Pound got were half-educated admirers who adopted his worship of Confucius and of Major Douglas’ theories of Social Credit without any idea of the substructure that Pound wanted to remodel, not topple.

To some degree, it is apparent that Debord’s psychogeography (on which topic I recommend a recent book by that title) was anarchist in the sense of the immensely cultivated individuals who developed the notion of mutual aid; the playfulness and the overturning of crass commercial structures was in the service of a vision of society that was seldom explicated because it did not need to be.

But for all of that, the three Atlanta artists interviewed in this issue of Deconform have gotten at ways of displacing the sleep of spectacle by presenting their own spectacle in the service of a higher humane vision. Kiki Blood derives her own updated contemporary practice from performance theories and examples of Viennese Actionism that sprang from the same unsettled post-World-War-II period as Situationism,. Ben Fain is more along the lines of re-inventing Matthew Barney to more intelligent ends, but he possesses the perspectiive to admit the partial failure of one large-scale enterprise while moving resolutely towards another dryly witty replacement for the everyday use of the spectacular that Barney’s Cremaster films merely metaphysicalize on a grand scale.

I can see why the folks who edit Deconform would want to produce a publication so resolutely ugly and out of it in promotional terms; the spectacle has today taken the form of supercool uses of Flash on websites and shrinking of cool magazines to tiny pages of color photos overlaid with snippets of what used to be called agate type (four to six point pocket eye-test; what one friend calls “a format designed to exclude anyone whose eyes are over the age of thirty”). To thumb one’s nose at trendiness as these younger editors have chosen to do is an appropriate gesture.

Yet the Situationists’ anti-movies and anti-comic strips were displacements of the dominant media of their day. A new Situationism would have to figure out ways to displace digital media in parallel but not similar fashion. Today Debord and company would be distributing their stuff as downloadable to iPods and uploadable to YouTube.

Or more likely, not. For as the inheritors of the Situationists taught us in the 1980s (or at least the purveyors of the simulacrum and semiotics did), the spectacle has recuperated irony as a means of intensifying sleep; Situationist sarcasm no longer cuts it in an era when everythying is reflexively sarcastic and advertisers have recognized that the only way of marketing to younger generations is to ridicule their own product so attractively that it will be hip to buy it.

Ben Grad’s essay on the old-hippie values of the Lake Claire Land Trust reflect the challenge of maintaining an authentic level of resistance at a moment when even things like Land Trusts could be (but so far haven’t been) recruited as incidental décor for the Slow Food movement or the gourmet uses of All Local, All Fresh products in hundred-dollar dinners. “Authenticity” is all too easily co-opted (to use an antique term) as another means of looking down on the unperceptive preferences of people who use flash-frozen foods because they cost less and cook quickly after a very long day at work.

But that’s what Deconform is out there to accomplish, to get critique and discussion started, and I for one am quite glad they are doing it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

mostly cross-posted from joculum, with annotations

the hip, the historic, the horrible

NOTE: In lieu of the majority of the illustrations, which can be found on, I am adding the annotation that this meditative essay is not at all a review of the Rebecca Nolan and Meryl Truett show at Gallery Stokes, which I recommend highly. I have chosen, thus far, not to review the show because I don't have any truly representative images to post. The gallery's parallel post of pictures of dirt roads does not give an adequate impression of their respective visions of Southern architecture, a shared sensibility that is delectably precise and exquisitely attuned to the genuinely strange, of which the Southern landscape has ample examples. The neon sign of the Magic Beach Motel is probably the least peculiar example.

The photographic detail above is not by either photographer.

I’ve just learned, with belated sadness, of the demolition of the Deco elements of north Florida’s Marineland, a.k.a. Marine Studios. Apparently only the entry arch was preserved when the place was turned into an updated tourist attraction featuring the dolphins but not the oceanarium (long since displaced in tourist affections by the world’s newer aquariums, and in Florida by the familiar attractions more convenient to metro Orlando).

For a quarter-century after its opening in mid-1938, Marineland did much to stir the architectural and landscaping imaginations of small children who came to look at the fish in the murky dark (and occasionally get confused because Marineland had a deep sea diver, but there were no mermaids like there were at Weeki Wachee and Webb’s City). Minimally Moderne though it was, Marineland design was worlds ahead of the architecture in the towns and cities of most of Florida north of Miami.

The dismayed report was given last night at Atlanta’s Stokes Gallery by Rebecca Nolan, who is showing her photographs alongside Meryl Truett’s in a two-person show of Southern curiosa and changing landscapes. Truett’s photograph of bounding neon rabbits on the Magic Beach Motel which is near Saint Augustine (as was and is the old and the very new Marineland) illustrates the alteration of the horrible into the hip: the mid-20th-century Vilano Beach Motel has, judging from their website, taken on an air of postmodern retro. But given the value of the oceanside land on which it sits, there are (perhaps false) rumors it may not be there much longer.

The Moderne and Deco hotels of South Beach were once considered as hideous and declassé as the motels of the succeeding generation. Today they have been restructured into the ultimate in boutique chic, but when the preservation effort was at its inception thirty years or so ago, developers were saying things like, “Williamsburg is historic. These hotels aren’t historic, they’re just old and ugly.”

I’ve opined earlier on this blog regarding the features that distinguish epochs in architecture and design, and how the prototypical models get recycled into good imitations and on down to really bad knockoffs. The problem is that until roughly four to five decades of historical distance have been achieved, we can’t tell the good second-tier examples from the godawful third- and fourth-tier ones.

I never followed up on Wallpaper magazine’s effort to preserve a ’60s or ’70s hotel somewhere in coastal Croatia (I don’t recall which of the two decades the hotel dates from, but from what I recollect as photos of Howard-Johnson-orange bar seating, it was probably the latter). I do remember that the magazine writer’s examples of what it reminded him of were all from about a decade earlier than the 1974 in which the hotel was probably built; he said something like that the James Bond of the first few movies could be imagined suavely walking through the lobby, or that the Rat Pack would have loved the hallway décor.

My point is that in many ways the ’70s were the nadir of American design, but globally, some of the designs of which faint recollections reached the farther shores of the New World were actually pretty good. They might be physical environments in which I still would not choose to linger, but they encapsulate a historical moment with genuine aesthetic integrity.

This is so even for structures that were never meant to be aesthetic in the first place, as those of us can testify who frequent restaurants and stores and galleries located in former power plants and factories and warehouses. However, I can’t help noticing that one look at the historic photographs makes me happy that someone realized that the brick building underneath the facade was better than what the original buyers had put on to prettify it.

Tastes differ, and Nolan and Truett’s photographs at Stokes Gallery have the distinction of making us see the virtues in buildings we are preprogrammed to overlook or denigrate.

More troublesome, and tiring, is the issue of regional efforts to preserve third-rate examples of a style, because the second-rate examples have all been demolished. (The first-rate examples never made it out of the world’s great cities.) Whether it is better to save something horrible because of its historic value is a question worthy of debate; it’s possible, as per the factories and warehouses, to extract beauty from places so full of design flaws that their present state cries out for demolition.

Meanwhile, being given to petty annoyance like all members of the human species except a few enlightened beings, I am irked that Target has gotten rid of some of their best Michael Graves designs and of Philippe Starck completely. But that, happily, is a separate issue.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

cross-posted from

“The Louvre and the Ancient World,” just opened at Atlanta’s High Museum, is another one of those exercises in museology that is hard to get one’s head around. The purpose of putting these objects from the Louvre in these galleries is not to present the cultures from which these objects sprang; it is to present the history of the cultural institution that collected them.

This was amply illustrated by the curator’s remark that the Department of Egyptian Antiquities was not, as people think, founded with the plunder from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. It was founded by Napoleon’s chief archaeologist a quarter-century later, but with objects shipped back by diplomats, because in the meantime Napoleon had lost the war and his Egyptian stuff had all been hauled off to the British Museum.

One object with an eighteenth-century provenance is a lovely example of the dilemmas posed by history. It’s a portrait statue of an Egyptian notable who went round the country depositing in temples statues of himself with the local gods perched protectively on his lap.

This leads me to think that there must surely be a book about the evolution of donor portraits, which in antiquity raise the donors to the status of gods themselves, handing off the church building to Christ or whatever. Then donors become humble suppliants, albeit present at the creation as they kneel beside the manger in Bethlehem in medieval altarpieces. Eventually they become apotheosized again, but in the guise of monumental portraiture, and the gods have nothing to do with it.

But this particular donor statue was damaged in antiquity, and has acquired an incongruously Greek nose in the process of restoration. Furthermore, and this is the part that most interests me, the eighteenth century restorers turned the local gods on his lap into the Egyptian gods that were more familiar to eighteenth century viewers.

I am reminded of my meditation a year or so ago about London’s restoration of Russell Square to its original design, with a twenty-first century Italian panini shop in one corner. Original authenticity and contemporary experience are juxtaposed, but in the process everything that twentieth century authors knew as Russell Square has vanished.

This is why the Louvre curators have left this statue in its present odd condition; even if it could be restored to something closer to its original state, what would be lost would be the alterations that reveal the mindset of the intervening centuries. There is no comfortable way of having both, of creating an archaeological palimpsest in which all the successive layers show up equally.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Howard Finster house

This news story from Sept 28 will be of interest to those of my friends who accompanied me to Folk Fest 2007:

Old Finster home turned into 'Vision House' museum
House is cut off from disputed Paradise Gardens

The Atlanta Journal-Constituion
Published on: 09/28/2007

PENNVILLE — Howard Finster created at least 48,000 numbered works of art in his 84 years, though some curators think his output was much greater.

He rarely slept through the night, catching catnaps and working at a furious pace, painting, sculpting and enlarging the phantasmagoric landscape that he called Paradise Gardens, an assemblage of bicycle frames, mosaics, cement statues, highly decorated pagodas and found art in his backyard in this tiny town about 90 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Chicago fine art dealer David Leonardis is shown in the gallery of the Howard Finster Vision House, the folk artist's former home in Pennville.

"It was said that he ate coffee, because it was faster than drinking it," said Susan Crawley, associate curator of folk art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Suddenly embraced by hipster musicians in the 1980s and the art establishment in the 1990s, the sometime country preacher and bicycle repairman became perhaps the most famous folk artist in the world by the time of his death in 2001.

The world hardly knew what to do with Finster when he was alive and seems similarly clueless at handling his legacy.

The newest tribute, the Howard Finster Vision House, a museum devoted to the artist, opens tonight inside the somewhat dilapidated Pennville house where Finster lived and heard a voice tell him to paint sacred art.

The Vision House, created by Chicago art dealer David Leonardis, should be an example of the ongoing influence that Finster has in Georgia arts. But it could also be an example of the conflict and cross purposes that have undermined efforts to celebrate this Georgia legend.

The house is cut off from Paradise Gardens, and the owners of the two properties are separated by chain-link fencing, barbed wire and bitter feelings.

Though ravaged by time and the elements and by the sale of many of its prize sculptures, Paradise Gardens is still the crown jewel of Finster's legacy. Leonardis tried to acquire the art environment two years ago. But Finster's daughter Beverly Finster-Guinn, not fond of Leonardis, passed on his $200,000 bid in favor of a smaller sum from an ordained minister representing a nonprofit organization.

Yet that group hasn't been successful at landing the grant money required to preserve the sprawling four-acre environment.

Finster built his paradise on a swamp, and today the swamp is winning, as exemplified by the dilapidated state of the soaring central structure, a 50-foot birthday cake that Finster called the World's Folk Art Church.

An upper-level balcony sags free, ready to plunge to the ground. Visitors are discouraged from entering.

"It wasn't like that three years ago," says Leonardis, gesturing over the fence at the sagging structure. "It makes my blood boil."

Leonardis, 40, stumbled into the art business in the 1980s when he was a waiter and a collector of Finster art. After buying as many pieces as he could afford, he contacted the artist in 1990 with the idea of making T-shirts bearing Finster's designs. Soon he was creating limited-edition lithographs of Finster paintings and bringing stacks of prints to Georgia for the artist to sign.

"He's our adopted Yankee," said Frances Wilson, married to Finster's grandson Tommy Wilson. The Wilsons and other members of the extended clan have been helping Leonardis with the renovations at the Vision House, itself ready to "collapse into the earth" when Leonardis bought it at a tax auction two years ago.

It had housed two other families after Finster and his wife moved out in 1991, then stood empty for a while.

Leonardis moved 8 tons — yes, tons — of debris out of the house, rewired, plumbed and replaced walls, windows, doors and floors. While the front rooms are spick-and-span, the area behind is still derelict. Gaping holes in the back-room floors reveal the dark, cobwebby basement, where Finster kept count of his artwork with graffiti on the beams.

Leonardis has big plans for the unprepossessing structure. He wants to put in an industrial kitchen, living quarters for an artist's retreat and eventually stage weddings on the quarter-acre lot.

Tonight the Vision House offers what Leonardis calls Phase 1: a museum of Finster prints, with a few originals and some works by children and grandchildren. There is also a gallery with prints for sale.

Tommy Littleton, chairman of the nonprofit Paradise Gardens Park & Museum, hoped to buy Finster's house to reunite it with the art environment out back, but was not aware that the house was being sold for back taxes (Leonardis paid $1,479). "Our attentions were spread pretty thin," said the Birmingham resident.

Littleton said the group could probably stabilize the major structures in the Gardens with a $350,000 grant, but they've been unsuccessful in landing any significant money.

They did raise $5,000 with a silent auction at the recent Folk Fest in Norcross. The money was used for repairs at the Folk Art Church, and there are plans for future fund-raising.

Some Finster loyalists wonder why Atlanta organizations have failed to step in and rescue the Gardens.

Crawley said that's not part of the High's mission. "Rescuing environments outside a museum is not part of the brief of an art museum."

Finster scholar Tom Patterson applauds the High for doing what it could by preserving major pieces removed from the Gardens and installed in a special Finster exhibit at the Midtown museum.

Pennville, Patterson says, is a long way from Atlanta and from the arts organizations with the means to support it.

The Gardens have the additional disadvantage of being built on an earthen sponge, with multiple creeks trickling underneath.

On the other hand, the Gardens embody Finster's philosophy of taking that which is considered useless and turning it into art.

Littleton still marvels at how Finster "turned a swamp into a worldwide tourist attraction."

All it required was 30 years of herculean labor.

Now it remains to be seen whether Littleton's group and Leonardis can match the energy of one diminutive country preacher.