At the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the untitled portraits of artist Aurie Ramirez turn women into burlesque queens. With green, Harlequin-style makeup, Victorian pinstripe dresses and rock-star black tresses, the women sit in eggshell chairs in futuristic living rooms or in pink, dollhouse-size bedrooms.
These fierce and kitschy portrayals of women come from an artist whose unusual background is the inspiration for the museum's new traveling exhibition, "Create": Ramirez was born with developmental disabilities, as were the 19 other artists featured in the show.
"[Ramirez's figures] dress like empowered burlesque women, and there's a real edge to them," says Kathleen Goncharov, the museum's curator of exhibitions. "Aurie's mother took her to a Kiss concert when she was younger, so I think that's where the masks come from. The women wear masks to portray a sense of toughness and wildness."
Going on view Saturday, the show's 100 works are on loan from the Berkeley Art Museum in California. The pieces were created by artists working at three Bay Area centers for adults with disabilities: San Francisco's Creativity Explored, Oakland's Creative Growth Art Center and Richmond's National Institute for Art and Disabilities Art Center.
The centers network with national galleries and museums to give artists the prestige of showing in big-ticket art venues, Goncharov says. What does not apply to the artists, she says, is the label "outsider art," coined by art critic Roger Cardinal to describe works created by nontraditional artists, including patients of insane asylums and disabled artists isolated from the art world.
"There isn't anything quite like this anywhere else in the country, where art by the disabled is so connected and presented so professionally to museums and the mainstream art world," she says. "It's usually the case that the artists are doing it for therapeutic value, but that's not why they're here. The artists make a career out of it. They don't even need to have formal training in college."
The police officers, church leaders and singers in William Scott's paintings glow with a glossy hipness, depicting the luster of downtown San Francisco as something Berkeley Art Museum director Lawrence Rinder, in a companion book to the exhibit, describes as an "African-American utopia."
With documentary-style detail, artist William Tyler depicts in his pen-and-ink drawings his identical twin brother, along with shared memories of visiting state parks, Christmas parties and restaurants. Scott and Tyler, who have studio workspaces at the Creative Growth Art Center, are also featured in accompanying video profiles that will screen at the museum, Goncharov says.
Meanwhile, Judith Scott's sculpture assemblages depict chairs and egg-shaped objects wrapped with high heels, bicycle gears, yarn, bolts made from Mylar, Christmas lights and other found objects. It was an obsession the late fiber artist, who was born deaf, mute and with Down syndrome, embraced after her twin sister, Joyce, removed her from an institution for the mentally disabled in 1985. The artist, who never realized the extent of her fame even while her artworks sold in London and New York galleries, passed away in 2005.
"She has wild stuff. The story went that any object you left lying around, like a loose sock, would get snatched up and put in one of Judith's pieces," Goncharov says. "It shows that artists with disabilities are very capable, and if they're good enough, they can even showcase in museums."
When: Saturday through Sept. 22
Where: Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real
Contact: 561-392-2500 or BocaMuseum.org