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Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits

February 27, 2015 – August 2, 2015


Image for Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits

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 over 150 artworks made between 1969 and 1976 by a self–taught Washington, D.C. artist known only by his alter-ego, Mingering Mike.

The Mingering Mike collection comprises artworks constructed as part of the artist’s youthful fantasy of becoming a famous soul singer and songwriter, including LP albums made from painted cardboard, original album art, song lyrics and liner notes, self-recorded 45 rpm singles and more, all tracing the career of a would-be superstar.

The works powerfully evoke the black entertainers of the late 1960s and ’70s and are a window onto an historical moment when black radio was new and Washington-based performers like Marvin Gaye were gaining national attention and transforming American music. Mingering Mike was among the countless kids who dreamed of being discovered.

The lines between fantasy and reality are fluid in this body of work—Mingering Mike’s exuberantly illustrated record covers feature characters drawn from the artist’s own family and friends as well as “reviews” by real musicians such as Marvin Gaye and James Brown, and recordings of the artist’s original music are stamped with claims of having been made live in D.C. hot spots such as the Howard Theatre.

The collection was lost to the artist in the early 2000s and discovered at a D.C. flea market by “record digger” and criminal investigator Dori Hadar in 2004. Hadar posted pictures of the albums to an online record forum and the imaginary superstar quickly became a cult sensation. Hadar eventually located the artist, who still lives in D.C., and connected him with art dealer and curator George Hemphill, who arranged the first exhibitions of Mingering Mike’s work.

Untrained as either musician or visual artist, Mingering Mike nonetheless embodies a critical component of the American Dream, conquering tough circumstances by actualizing—to whatever extent possible—a world filled with fame, fortune, and happiness. This exhibition presents the vibrant creativity of this singular artist and powerfully conveys the larger American cultural phenomena that are so fully enmeshed in his words and images.

This installation features an array of objects from the collection, selected by Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art.

Free Public Programs
Friday, February 27, 2015, 6:30 p.m. – Round Table Remix panel discussion with Mingering Mike (in costume), exhibition curator Leslie Umberger, Dori Hadar, Tom Patterson, and Carroll Hynson Jr. (Live webcast available)
Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 6:30 p.m. – Curator-led Gallery Talk
Saturday, March 14, 2015, 5-8 p.m. – “Supersonic Rewind” dance party
Wednesday, April 15, 2015, noon – Conservation gallery talk

Go behind-the-scenes with the museum's blog, Eye Level
Mingering Mike is in the House, February 26, 2015
Mingering Mike: Just for the Record, February 26, 2013

In the News
WETA, Around Town - Mingering Mike, April 14, 2015, with Robert Aubry Davis, Bill Dunlap and Janis Goodman
NPR, March 28, 2015, “The Tale Of Mingering Mike, Who Painted Himself A Music Career” by Joel Rose
Washington City Paper, March 6, 2015, “'Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits' At the Smithsonian American Art Museum to Aug. 2 - This outsider didn’t reach soul superstardom, but he was a bona fide artist” by Kriston Capps
The Guardian, February 11, 2015, “The mystery of Mingering Mike: the soul legend who never existed” by Jon Ronson
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

Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits is Powered by Pepco. Additional support is provided by the museum’s Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. American Folk Art Fund.