When curator Massimiliano Gioni appropriated the utopian concept of self-taught artist Marino Auriti’s Palazzo Enciclopedico — a panoptic, non-elitist examination of international art practice — for the 55th Venice Biennale, viewers thrilled to the presentation of so-called outsider artists, those who make work without the training of the art-school system, alongside known market stars, most of whom flaunt fine-art degrees.
Two years later, Gioni’s implementation of Auriti’s vision is regularly being traced as the spark for the current interest in a (sometimes eschewed) genre that has been quietly championed by a loyal following for better part of the 20th century.
Andrew Frieder, Untitled (Man with Skull), 2007.
Mixed media on paper. 15 x 22 ins. Courtesy The Good Luck Gallery.
In addition to the breakout in Venice, the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection in the spring of 2013, while currently, curator Lynne Cooke of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is organising a yet-to-be-named exhibition, examining the relationship between self-taught art and modern and contemporary work.
The lock, however, might be the gift of 57 works of outsider art made by the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation last November to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, considered to be perhaps the ultimate encyclopedic collection of global art work.
‘In the last three or four years Outsider Art has caused the sort of buzz that we believe will turn collectors heads,’ says Cara Zimmerman, a specialist in American Folk Art at Christie’s New York.
Indeed, prices seem to be reflecting that belief. Last December, an untitled drawing by Henry Darger, the Chicago elementary school janitor who created hundreds of drawings depicting an imaginary universe in which children rule the world, more than doubled its €250,000 high estimate to achieve €601,500 at Christie’s Paris.
Henry Darger, Are Seized by Pursueing [sic] Glandelinians, n.d.
Carbon transfer and watercolor on paper. 19 x 48 ins. Courtesy Carl Hammer Gallery.
Even more recently, Zimmerman’s 23 January offering of works by Thornton Dial, Bill Traylor, and William Hawkins within her Important American Furniture, Outsider and Folk Art sale performed admirably with pieces by Traylor especially achieving prices well past their high estimates. ‘It was a capsule collection, if you will, of objects that announced our movement into this area,’ she says. ‘The work thrived within the setting.’
Bill Traylor, Man Walking Dog, c. 1939-42.
Coloured pencil on cardboard. 11.75 x 11.75 ins. Courtesy Judy A. Saslow Gallery.
Another context in which both seasoned and novice collectors can heighten their knowledge of the category is the carefully curated Outsider Art Fair, which opens at Center 548 in New York on January 29. Although this edition marks its 23rd year, the fair will enjoy its largest presentation of booths — some 50 galleries represent 27 cities from eight countries.
Highlights include Haitian works from the collection of filmmaker Jonathan Demme shown by Arte del Pueblo gallery, drawings of marching bands by New Orleans artist Bruce Davenport Jr., and sculptures by Jerry the Marble Faun, who was the gardener at Grey Gardens, the infamous East Hampton home of Edith Beale and her daughter.
Bruce Davenport, Jr., T.D.B.C. Presents Say No To Don King, 2014
Archival ink on acid-free paper, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy Louis B. James.
Jerry the Marble Faun, Tower, 2007-2009.
Limestone and natural pigment. 27 x 8 x 6.5 ins. Courtesy Jackie Klempay Gallery.
‘We’re also excited to expand the global notion of Outsider Art,’ says fair director Becca Hoffman, who cites the work of Australian Aboriginal artists, tantric Indian pieces, and African objects among the offerings. ‘Outsider Art is an umbrella, and the types and styles that fall under it are wholly unique,’ she adds.
Anonymous, Tantra Painting [Jaipur], 2004.
Mixed media. 14 x 12 ins. Courtesy Gallery Hervé Perdriolle.
‘There are many formal threads, but there are almost as many aesthetic variations within outsider art as there are in today’s pluralistic art world,’ says Robert Manley, a specialist in the Post-War & Contemporary Art department at Christie’s New York, who will speak on a panel discussing the current state of the category’s market during the fair.
‘The material draws on popular and contemporary culture the same way the work of trained artists does, so there have to be parallels,’ follows Zimmerman. ‘But these artists are interpreting the world through their own lens.’
Alcides Pereira dos Santos, A Boat Cabin, 1995.
Acrylic on canvas. 28.75 x 85 ins. Courtesy Galeria Estação.
Sheena Wagstaff, chairman of the Met’s department of Modern and Contemporary Art is also keen to draw the connection. This art ‘is crucial to the understanding of American art history,’ she says of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation gift. ‘I’m so thrilled that we can count on presenting these artists alongside their contemporaries.’ Clearly, the encyclopedia is being revised with another entry.
The Outsider Art Fair at Center 548 in New York runs from 29 January to 1 February.