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Fall of Related Objects: Tribute to Charles Fort

Martha Visser't Hooft

Martha Visser’t Hooft (1906-1994) is one of the most important modernist artists to have worked in this area in the 20th century. Her early paintings reflect the Surrealist movement’s influence on American art.

Martha Visser't Hooft, Fall of Related Objects: Tribute to Charles Fort. Oil on canvas, 1948. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Gift of ACG Trust, 1970.

Her painting Tumblers and Pigeons (1950), now in the collection of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and featured in Life magazine. Cry of the Juke Box (1951), another work from this period, is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Visser’t Hooft’s 1948 painting Fall of Related Objects: Tribute to Charles Fort is in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

But who was Charles Fort?

“The writings of philosopher-scientist Charles Fort (1874-1932) intrigued Martha,” said Professor Albert Michaels, author of Visser’t Hooft (The Poetry/Rare Books Collection, SUNY Buffalo, 1991). “In his non-fiction books, Fort examined events which seemed to defy all the orthodoxies of science, and probed strange phenomena which defied rational explanation. His work influenced many of Martha’s early paintings.”

The lack of rationality caused scientists to reject his theories, which never benefited from a mainstream or academic following. Fort’s influence on science fiction, however, cannot be disputed. He is also widely considered the father of paranormal studies.

Interest in Fort has been building recently to what might be considered an all-time high. The proliferation of information on the Internet has certainly contributed to this resurgence.

Two recent publications also attest to this heightened interest: Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural by Jim Steinmeyer (Tarcher/Penguin, 2008) and The Book of the Damned: The Collected Works of Charles Fort (Tarcher/Penguin, 2008).

Some of Fort’s theories are now viewed with less skepticism. With the passage of time, “science fiction” has become “science fact.”

As a modernist painter in the mid-century, Visser’t Hooft’s influences and style were often considered outrageous. In fact, her work is still frequently described as otherworldly. Strange creatures, objects, and settings inhabit her paintings. However, much in the same way as Fort’s writings are seen today, Visser’t Hooft’s work is acknowledged to have been ahead of its time.

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