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Exhibitions: The Mingering Mike Collection / American Art
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Exhibitions

The Mingering Mike Collection

2nd floor South, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)
February 27, 2015 – August 2, 2015

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The Mingering Mike Show (Various Artists) Live from the Howard Theater, (Nations Capitol Records), 1969 mixed media and cardboard, 12 x 12 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

In 2013, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired a collection of well over 100 pieces of musical ephemera made between 1965 and 1979 by a self–taught Washington, D.C. artist known only as Mingering Mike. The Mingering Mike Collection consists of “vinyl” LP albums (made from painted cardboard), original album art, song lyrics and liner notes, 45 rpm singles, and more pertaining to the artist’s youthful fantasy of being a famous soul singer/songwriter. The lines between reality and fantasy are fluid in this body of work—commercially produced tapes with Mingering Mike’s fabricated labels mingle with tapes and demo records holding his original music; made–up reviews supposedly written by real musicians (such as James Brown) dot the covers, and recordings are stamped with claims of having been made live in D.C. venues such as the Howard Theatre.

The collection is a window on an historical moment when D.C. played a pivotal role in music history and therefore held tremendous cultural significance. Black radio was new and musicians like Marvin Gaye, who grew up singing on D.C. street corners, were claiming national attention. Mingering Mike was among the countless kids who dreamed of being discovered. Untrained as either musician or visual artist, Mingering Mike nonetheless embodies a critical component of the American Dream, in which a poor black youth conquers tough circumstances by actualizing—to whatever extent possible—a world filled with fame, fortune, and happiness.

This installation will feature a wide array of objects from the collection, selected by Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art.


Go behind-the-scenes with the museum's blog, Eye Level
Mingering Mike: Just for the Record, February 26, 2013


In the News
Washington City Paper, March 7, 2013, “The Deep Cuts of Mingering Mike” by Jonathan Fischer
Smithsonian, March 5, 2013, “The Greatest R&B Singer Who Never Existed” by Paul Bisceglio
The Washington Post, March 1, 2013, “D.C. outsider artist Mingering Mike’s works to be exhibited at Smithsonian” by Katherine Boyle
Hyperallergic, March 1, 2013, “Smithsonian American Art Museum Acquires the Life’s Work of an Imaginary Soul Singer” by Allison Meier
Washington City Paper, February 27, 2013, “Mingering Mike Collection Acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Jonathan Fischer
Soul Strut, February 26, 2013, “Mingering Mike now lives at the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Dori Hadar


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