Larry Wessel is the modern curator of the strange underground of American Folk Kitsch. It is an important role he plays in recording what is being forgotten day in and day out as we are bombarded with more and more electronic artifice that we are mistaking for culture. In the world of the meme, Wessel’s work is a beacon to the three-dimensional world of the bizarro, gonzo true creativity.
His newest film, Palace of Wonders, is best represented as a metaphor of one of its segments that comes about three-quarters of the way through the piece, the World’s Fair. One time in history, before travelling circuses, access to high-quality publishing, film, and the Internet, the only way to experience much of the wonders of the world was to attend the World’s Fair, an Olympics-scale event that would set up shop for at least a year in a major city, collect and curate some of the greatest new technologies, crafts, and people from all over the world, and provide an experience to the public they would never otherwise experience in their life. The closest we have to it today, perhaps, is EPCOT at Walt Disney World in Florida, but even that is quite derivative and lacks the spectacle, originality, and true purpose of the original worlds fairs.
Palace of Wonders is Wessel’s attempt to take us through a tour of some of the kitschy folk collections, artists, and personalities that exist on the borders of what once was and what once could be again if we simply remember what it was like to have original, three-dimensional experiences. We travel with Wessel as we tour international antique collections, art collections, magic trick and church of Satan collections, vinyl Japanese pop culture figure collections, tattoo collections, coin-op novelty collections, LSD art collections, and burlesque collections. We are in attendance at bizarro punk music performances and an underground fashion show featuring the late, great Goddess Bunny. We explore the collected works of a man who built a colorful shrine to Jesus in the desert, the photographer of Charles Bukowski, the final days of the offices of MAD Magazine, and one of the artists that worked in Andy Warhol’s factory who is still producing work. It is a marmalade of a host of exciting, strange, and truly wonderful moments in time with people that are still creating some original and interesting work that the world should never forget – and there is something beautiful about appreciating the collections and history of the pieces from the collectors who are preserving these moments and items.
Wessel’s Palace of Wonders is truly that, a walking tour of some of the more unforgettable personalities and collections of our times. He is a silent observer (save for a giggle here or there), and is simply taking us through his lens to a modern World’s Fair of oddities and curiosities that are not to be missed and shouldn’t be forgotten to history. His newest piece is a fun ride, a funhouse with something different around every corner, carried by the momentum of the magnetic personalities in each booth. His curation has solidified these personalities in yet another great independent film.