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Old School Halloween (In praise of freaks)

Joseph Beuys, being ghosty

So, I grew up on this tiny liberal arts college campus that was on an old 18th century farm in almost-rural New Hampshire. There was a legendary ghost, Emma, that would stalk about the place, showing up naked at odd hours of the night asking for shelter; plus, the house had also been a stop on the Underground Railroad, and so of course I always imagined that the souls of nearly-free runaway slaves were trapped in the basement. It was a terrifying, albeit somewhat lyrical place to mature.

Every Halloween, there would be a big party down in the old barn-cum-cafeteria of the school and all the students would dress up as figures from the great epics they’d been reading — a blinded Oedipus; a mangy, ferocious Siren; a foxy Circe or a tear-sodden Dido, as well as the odd Southern Lit. character reference like O’Connor’s Misfit or a staggeringly drunk Faulkner. Back in the 80s,  the room would be thick with cigarette smoke, increasing the confusion in my child-brain as I tried to decode all the literary get-ups I had no canonical compass for at the time. I recall feeling deep shame at the utter uncoolness of that small bastion of nerdy, Classical academia, but took a modicum of solace in the fact that no one but my siblings was there to affiliate me with such lame dorkiness.

Now, of course, I think otherwise about the whole experience, and savor the rich oddity of being reared-up among Medusas and Antigones. It was really Something. We talk a lot about starting a good art school in Dallas, and I’m not entirely sure what a good art school actually is, but I can’t help but hope that it’d be something like that school where I grew up — a place that fosters whip-smart, incredibly dynamic people of the world with their hands in everything, making lucid and necessary messes. If that imaginary art school had a Halloween party, maybe the nerds that went there would dress up like some of these art characters, hopefully to the witness of impressionable youth.

Sara and Gerald Murphy, 1924


the talented, unabashedly silly Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1925

Sophie Taeuber-Arp and an accomplice in handmade costumes


Always original and strange, Meret Oppenheim

Frida Kahlo, in full regalia any day of the week


Yves Klein, Judo master

Joseph Beuuys, sitting with a dead hare


Joseph Beuys, lecturing with a small hare


Andy Warhol the icon, making himself an icon


Louise Bourgeois, velvet and girlish

Image credits:
The Murphys via
Sophie Taeuber-Arp via
Meret Oppenheim via
Yves Klein via
Joseph Beuys via
Andy Warhol via
Louise Bourgeois via
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