The mirror fragments and rows of "Hear-See-Speak-No-Evil" monkey statuettes that framed the entrance to "Judyland," Judy Onofrio's installation sponsored by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts's Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, were just a hint of things to come. When I was there, a visitor exclaimed "Wow!" upon passing through the doorway and seeing the wonders within--a succinct and entirely appropriate response.
"Judyland" is an adaptation of the environment created by Onofrio in her home and backyard in Rochester, Minn. Influenced by naives and visionaries such as Simon Rodia, creator of the Watts Towers, and by the homegrown baroque of such Midwestern religious sites as the Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin, Onofrio puts everything into her work: Abe Lincoln figurines, pieces of cups and saucers, carved coconut souvenirs, keys, buttons, plastic skulls, cookie tins, marbles, artificial flowers, plaster fruit, Christmas lights and more. She made an orderly, near-symmetrical setting here for her art of excess: in addition to densely embellished pedestals with "objects" and a faux arcade framing elaborate reliefs, she built an extravagant gateway to the gallery that was crowned with bowling balls and seashell-coated tendril forms.
In an art world often caught up in political chic or rarefied formal strategies, the work of outsiders offers an appealing alternative. Populist in spirit and highly individual if not downright eccentric in style, it frequently displays a winning ingenuity and exuberance. I confess that I'm a sucker for such stuff, even if I retain nagging doubts about self-conscious and ironic fine-art use of seemingly innocent forms of expression. Onofrio, however, is clearly not engaged in hip artistic slumming. Her work is an outlet for a long-term collecting mania and is rich with new possibilities for skills developed earlier in ceramics, jewelry and architectural installations. She excels at the kind of detailed surfaces where virtuosity and obsessiveness go hand in hand, for instance when she covers the side of an urn with pencils.