Opus Hypnagogia: Trippy Outsider Art at the Morbid Anatomy Museum


Hypnagogia–a fancy Greek word for the transition from wakefulness to sleep–is a state of consciousness in which trippy mental phenomena like lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis occur. It’s a state that artists and scientists through the ages have famously mined for ideas–Beethoven, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton all credited hypnagogia with enhancing their creativity.

Opus Hypnagogia: Sacred Spaces of the Visionary and Vernacularon view now at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, showcases otherworldly artworks implied to have been made while their creators were in such heightened states of consciousness. Luckily, it’s free of the paisley and peace signs and other psychedelic cliches such a description might call to mind (although there are some inverted pentagrams). Culled from the vast collection of Brooklyn-based gallerist Stephen Romano, the work here is a mix of outsider, folk, and visionary artists from the 1600s to the present. Highlights include spirit photos from the mid-1800s; a “Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft” from 1926; and a sculpture of Satan holding a kitschy ceramic cat. Many paintings resemble homages to fantastical 16th-century Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (like William Blayney’s “Whore on Beast,” feat. a lady in a tiara riding a monster). There’s also what Romano calls “a virtually unobtainable masterpiece of occult grimoire” (grimoire = magical text), titled Doktor Johannes Faust’s Magia naturalis, filled with surreal illustrations of demons.

Opus Hypnagogia does what Morbid Anatomy Museum does best: For the literal-minded, pragmatic visitor, the images pose a challenge, serving as a reminder that the world is weirder and more mysterious than it might seem on a mundane workday. For the visitor who likes to seek out the strangeness of hypnagogic or other altered states, it’s a reminder they’re not alone in that; “Whore on Beast” will be there to accompany them.

Here, a sneak peek at the exhibit.

"Whore on Beast," by William Blayney Carte De Visite c.late 19th century.


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OPUS HYPNAGOGIA: Sacred Spaces of the Visionary and Vernacular is on view at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus until October 15, 2015. 

Follow Carey Dunne on Twitter @CareyDunne

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