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John Dunivant

John Dunivant at the Lodge Gallery in New York City, through October 12, 2013

Once upon a time, there was an enchanted amusement park, hidden on the edge of a ragged city. For one night every year, this secret kingdom made itself known and sprang to life with fire and music and dance. – until the day it was exposed – and cast out.

The Expatriate Parade began as a single sketch of a scapegoat with a ferris wheel on its back. It bore my burden as it was driven from its home by an unfeeling and unseen power. This sketch led to many more, and the resulting parade of drawings – with its ceaseless forward motion in spite of the ever changing circumstances of the moment – led me to reflect on my own life. –John Dunivant

A few years before Detroit’s Michigan State Fair, the oldest in the nation, closed forever, I had a blast working a game on the midway. “It’s Crazy Ball Fun Time! You pick the colors the crazy ball picks the winners. We’re giving it all away today at the Michigan State Fair!” Friends who lived in Detroit’s suburbs wouldn’t venture to 7 Mile and Woodward Avenue to visit, which helps explain why the fair’s attendance had plummeted to a mere 217,000.

Meanwhile, across the street, artist John Dunivant spent a decade building what he calls an abandoned theme park using iconography from Coney Island and other places. In this video by Makezine, you’ll see a Hell’s Mouth sign that takes its inspiration from the neon THRILLS sign at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. The artist lists natural history museums, dioramas, Halloween, souvenir postcards, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, roadside attractions, reliquaries and religious iconography, and traveling carnivals among his obsessions and fascinations.

The drug wars in Dunivant’s neighborhood made it possible for his friend Ken Poirer to buy up property and once a year, on Halloween, their midway came to life with a phantasmagorical underground party called “Theatre Bizarre.” In addition to elaborately costumed performers, there was an operating Ferris Wheel and a homemade roller coaster. In 2010, the same year the state fair shut down, Dunivant’s illegal amusement rides and funhouses were discovered by city authorities and shut down for code violations.

John Dunivant’s “The Expatriate Parade,” a series of paintings and bronzes inspired by the closure of Theatre Bizarre, is on view through October 12 at the Lodge Gallery at 131 Chrystie Street on New York’s Lower East Side. The artist will give a talk on Saturday, October 5, at 2 pm.

Yet Theatre Bizarre lives on, at a new location –Detroit’s Masonic Temple–and won a $100,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for fostering the arts. This year the party is set for October 18 and 19. A documentary film is also in the works–here’s the splendid trailer…

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March 18, 2013: Art of the Day: Street Art by RAE in Coney Island

June 27, 2013: Photo Album: The Front of the Show at Meadowlands Fair

October 10, 2011: Photo of the Day: Coney Island’s Famed “Hey Joey!” Doomed

February 26, 2010: Made in Brooklyn: The World’s Only Jet-Powered Merry-Go-Round

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