Exhibition - C.T. McClusky: Circus Surreal

Saturday, Oct 24, 2020 at 11:00am

Ricco And Maresca Gallery
529 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10001

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The only known beginning of C. T. McClusky’s story dates back to a Sunday morning in 1975 when a middle-aged woman named Corine set up a booth at the Penny Flea Market Island Drive in Alameda, California. A battered old suitcase glued to a large, worn-out paper cutout of the word CIRCUS stood there silently shouting out its name amid the bric-à-brac, and it caught the attention of John Turner—then a volunteer curator at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. With just one brief look at the suitcase’s contents, he realized he had “stumbled upon a treasure.” It was relayed to Turner that McClusky was a circus clown who lived during the winter seasons between the late 1940s and mid 1950s in an Oakland boarding house run by Corine’s mother. He kept few personal belongings there other than a stack of Life magazines and newspapers; he occupied his time off the road creating mixed-media collages that resurrected the circus in its absence and on occasion, Corine recalled, would present a work to her or one of her playmates.

Circus Surreal, McClusky’s gallery debut almost a half century after his discovery, presents a selection of 22 works—many of which have never been exhibited—out of the 53 known to exist. Each work transports the viewer to a distinct setting conjured with basic art supplies and populated with pictures from newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, comic strips, animal cracker boxes, and cigarette packs. The narrative unfolds throughout landscapes, cityscapes, and interiors and revolves primarily around the big top—the main tent of a circus. Outside we see moments before, in between, and after shows: the tent under construction (or deconstruction); the stir and cacophony of the crowds on circus day; calm panoramas where performers—human and animal—linger in crayon-colored pastures with clothes hung up to dry and vibrant orange suns floating over the horizon. Inside the big top scenes are always mid-performance, a never-ending present brimming with equestrian and acrobatic feats, elephant stunts, tightrope walkers, showgirls (the circus glitterati sometimes literally sprinkled with glitter), clowns and their buffoonery, big-cat trainers, vendors carrying trays with nuts and soft drinks, balloons, billowing American flags, and the audience—a blurred mass—all suspended at the height of reverie. 

Exhibition Date: September 17 - October 24, 2020 

We are limiting occupancy in our new 5,000 sq. ft. space to 20 people at a time in order to practice 12-feet social distancing

Face coverings will be required to enter 

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