Published: February 22, 2011
The long-running Outsider Art Fair, which marked its 19th edition on February 11‱3 in the 7W building, took a breath of fresh air this year, surpassing its usual impressive performance.
Keeping a fair looking fresh from year to year while staying true to its core focus is one of the many challenges show promoters face. Fresh seemed to be a recurring theme everywhere you looked at the show this year.
Outsider collectors know well-established Outsiders like Bill Traylor, Purvis Young, Clementine Hunter, Martin Ramirez, Henry Darger and Howard Finster †and, of course, they were represented here †but this year’s fair featured an influx of newly found artists. The fresh works delighted the senses and elicited new discoveries among buyers. An addition of five new galleries debuting at the show also helped reinvigorate the fair.
“We had the classics but what was more important †we had a lot of fresh new material that had never been seen before. That excited a lot of people,” said show promoter Sanford Smith. While the gate was up slightly over last year, sales were way up and Smith described a palpable “energy and buzz on the floor all weekend.”
Prominently featured on the show catalog’s cover was new exhibitor The Electric Pencil, New York City. The gallery takes its name after a patient at State Hospital No. 3 in Nevada, Mo., circa 1910, who referred to himself as “The Electric Pencil” and whose drawings made their public debut at the fair.
Electric Pencil gallerist Harris Diamant presented highlights from the collection of 283 drawings by the patient. The colorful drawings show a charm and a high level of draftsmanship that transcend the medium (the hospital treasurer’s notepad). An album of these drawings had been rescued from the trash in Springfield, Mo., in 1970 and stored for four decades.
“The Outsider Art Fair was a huge success,” Diamant reported the week after the fair. “We sold several drawings and we’re discussing exhibition of the drawings with three museums. Our first showing of the drawings of The Electric Pencil was far beyond our expectations.”
Among new exhibitors was Stephen Romano, Brooklyn, N.Y., whose offerings included Charles A.A. Dellschau’s (1830‱923) aeronautically inspired drawings. The Prussian-born butcher who immigrated to America created dozens of drawings of imaginary flying inventions, meticulously detailed and filled with abstractions, puns and newspaper clippings. References to his life’s trade abound in these works, with words like “outside” and “flank” incorporated into the drawings.
Romano reported strong sales and said the fair was “intensely great.” Among his sales was a major Dellschau work from 1920 that was exhibited in “Create and Be Recognized” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts titled “Gander Up,” setting a new price record for the artist. Three other works by the artist sold, and several more were on hold at press time.
Romano also wrote up tickets for a Jesse Howard work on tin from 1970, a Greg Furie drawing, whose showing at the fair was the first time by the artist, and several small works by Daniel Jefferson.
Intricate and colorful works by Alexandro Garcia shared the spotlight with sculpture and paintings by Michael Nedjar at Galerie Christian Berst, Paris, in the gallery’s first appearance in the show.
Also debuting at the fair, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Md., filled its booth with a solo exhibition by 90-year-old Greek artist Giorgos Rigas, whose memory paintings of the village where he grew up evoke memories of simpler times. While sales were not brisk, the gallery received much attention and is following up with collectors and museums it met at the show.
In its inaugural showing here, The Gallery at Hai, New York City, a nonprofit gallery, featured Angela Rogers’s “Carnival of the Oddities,” Shirley Hodges’s “Eye of Soul” and several works by Joe Simms depicting wildlife. Gallery director Quimetta Perle said the fair met and exceeded their expectations, with multiple sales of works by artist Melvin Way, who was on hand at the fair Saturday for a meet the artist event, along with sales of works by five other artists.
New exhibitor Marcia Weber Art Objects, Montgomery, Ala., displayed several works by Michael Banks (b 1972), including “Baptism” and “A Land Before Time.” The Alabama native is known for his paintings, incorporating found objects and various building materials.
Show veterans also mixed it up at the fair, ensuring fresh presentations. Just Folk, Summerland, Calif., showcased works by mainstays like Thornton Dial and Purvis Young, as well as breaking ground with a large, religious painting by J.W. Perates, bustling cityscapes by Pam Pauly and a life-sized “Tin Man,” circa 1940, that was originally found at a coin-op show in Chicago. The gallery noted visits by diverse kinds of collectors, and while appreciation for high-ticket works ran high, sales were mostly of newer artists in lower price ranges.
For the first time in 18 years, veteran dealer Marion Harris, New York City, did not have any Morton Bartlett works available in her booth, and so was able to focus on three new artists: Chris Beck, Charlotte Tina and Carlos DeMedeiros. All their works were priced under $5,000, which Harris noted was a price point that sold well across the board. She also introduced a new genre: Outsider performance art. Miniature confessionals by DeMedeiros, who was a monk for 14 years, were colorful and intricate sculptural pieces that hung on one entire booth wall. They even inspired real confessions from some showgoers in a private area of the booth.
Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, offered several works by Joseph E. Yoakum, including a sublime pen and colored pencil drawing depicting Mount Carlsbad near Berkeley, Calif., circa 1965, while Grey Carter †Objects of Art, McLean, Va., did well with younger and newer artists like JJ Cromer and Shane Van Pelt.
The Ames Gallery, Berkeley, Calif., noticed the absence of some of its regular buyers at the show, but found new audiences. Interest focused on six Temperance panels and in the A.G. Rizzoli drawings of people reimagined as buildings.
Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, Wis., showcased a carved and painted boat assemblage, made of wood, metal and various materials, titled “The C.J.P. Scott,” by the late James “J.P.” Scott, circa 1980s. A fetching enamel on wood by Howard Finster, “Visions of Animal Heaven,” 1986, was also attracting attention.
Veteran dealer Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City, has been in the fair every year since its inception and reported selling well across the board. “The most encouraging thing was the majority of sales were to new people&⁴hat’s the reason you do a fair,” said Frank Maresca. Selling well at the show were artists Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor and George Widener.
Adding a new twist to their booth, Maresca noted this year they featured an iPad that displayed high resolution images of available artworks not in the booth. The gallery made “a surprising number of sales” from this new tool and plans to utilize it at other shows. “It’s so small and convenient. I think it’s the perfect art gallery tool,” he said.
Also having a good fair was Tanner-Hill Gallery, Atlanta. “As for the fair, 2011 was definitely a better year. Sales were steady with numerous follow-up inquiries. Overall, I felt that the fair was stronger in the sense of both art presented as well as sales for the artists and galleries,” said gallerist Angela Usrey.
Show veteran Maxwell Projects, New York City, which has been a staple at the fair all 19 years, sold a choice work by Aaron Birnbaum titled “Peacocks” and several others by the artist, along with several architectural works on paper by Chris Murray, whose piece on the interior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010 received the most attention. “I thought the quality of the work in the booths looked very good and it was obvious the dealers were showing their best,” said gallerist Kerry Schuss.
Outsider Folk Art Gallery, Reading, Penn., presented a major piece by Howard Finster that sold and is heading home to Georgia, perhaps one day to be in a museum there. George Viener said there was a definite excitement to the show this year and their sales were good.
While Galerie Bonheur, St Louis, Mo., found that buyers were still cautious, the gallery sold well, reporting interest in and sales of works by Mary Whitfield, John Barton, Harriet Wiseman, Janice Kennedy, Gabriel Bien-Aime, Paul Graubard, Justin McCarthy, Amos Ferguson, Eric Guttlewitz and Georges Liautaud.
Henry Boxer Gallery, Richmond, England, also noted buyers’ caution and said his main sales were at the low end of the price ranges. “I did very well with two new artists, both French, self-taught: Ruzena and Joel Lorand,” said Boxer. “I sold between five and seven drawings by each of these artists, and collectors were excited by the work, finding both dark, haunting and original.” Madge Gill’s small mediumistic drawings on postcards from the 1940s were affordable and practically flew out of his booth.
Over at American Primitive Gallery, New York City, the momentum built slowly over the course of the weekend, picking up speed like a train. While the preview opening was festive, the best sales came on Sunday, even in the final hour of the show.
“We sold paintings and sculptural pieces of Terry Turrell to new collectors, as well as to repeat collectors from California. Ted Ludwiczak stone heads were carried out of the show, and we sold an unusual early Jimmy Lee Sudduth picture painted on roofing tin,” said Aarne Anton.
Featured artist Eugene Andolsek, renowned for his kaleidoscopic ink drawings, was also popular with buyers here and several of his works sold. Anton noted that one collector who could not attend the opening bought a group of pictures minutes before the show opened from emailed images, fearing they would be gone.
“The show continues to attract a broad audience from collectors, artists, museum curators and especially a younger crowd than what we saw at The American Antiques Show a few weeks earlier,” Anton said.
Late-show sales also were noted at Wasserwerk, Galerie Lange, Siegburg, Germany, which saw strong sales of small works by Alexandra Huber this year, in more muted tones than her offerings here last year. A rare, nearly exclusively black and white, canvas of Huber’s, “the inner static has its own dynamic (or vice versa),” in an unusual 120 by 210 centimeter size, sold well in the high four figures late on Sunday. Sculptures by Christophe, whom the gallery introduced last year here, did well, with 15 selling Sunday.
Olof Art Gallery, Oegstgeest, The Netherlands, reported “amazing” sales, with two large paintings by American artist Ross Brodar in the high four figures and a three-panel steel and acrylic painted screen by Candyce Brokaw. A large collection of drawings from artists around the world also sold well.
Sandy Smith’s next show will be the 51st New York Antiquarian Book Fair, April 8‱0, at the Park Avenue Armory. For information, www.sanfordsmith.com or 212-777-5218.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm