Published: January 26, 2021
By Greg Smith
POMONA, N.Y. – The oft-quoted Alexander Graham Bell phrase has found a new vehicle in Outsider and Folk Art dealer Aarne Anton. To brief the inventor, “When one door closes, another opens,” we look to the transfiguration of Anton’s gallery in the age of Covid and its conversion into a literal doorway.
“Once I saw what Covid was doing and how long it would last, I gave up the city rental,” Anton said. His long-held gallery in the city, American Primitive, exited Manhattan in April 2020 after more than 30 years in business there. “It was a relief to be home, but I realized I had to reinvent the business.”
Anton is worth a follow on Facebook and Instagram. He is an editor in the newest sense as he moderates and posts daily to not only his personal account, but also to his Facebook group, Misfits, which he founded in 2017. Anton is apt to point out that his Misfits is “not the group with skulls” that enshrines the punk rock band. Instead, his group explores “the various undercurrents of art making beneath the surface of the established art world in America… [it is] not a site intended for selling, rather for sharing discovery.” Anton remembers that one of his first posts to gain traction was a story about Axel Gustafson (1867-1945), a New York artist who created works of animals in wood carvings and cement. The sculptures were sold following his death in a farm auction and were said to be haunted by some of their subsequent owners, who suffered catastrophes after their acquisition.
Anton spends a couple hours every day on social media, creating new content and commenting on others. He is a creator and a member of a digital community that unites collectors, sellers and fans of Outsider and Folk Art the world over. Though its focus is American art, Sundays are curated by dealer Randall Morris to showcase international artists.
Selling through social media is an emerging trend among dealers. “In the past, I’ve sold Outsider Art pieces to the Smithsonian through Facebook,” Anton said. “People are looking, and if they’re not looking, they’re missing out.”
It is through social media that Anton has found his gallery’s revival in Nexus Singularity, a framed out Nineteenth Century door attached to the exterior of his home that serves as the stage for his digital gallery shows.
“I was sort of done with American Primitive, even though I’m known by that,” he said. “It was kind of a dinosaur name. Primitive implies things are not sophisticated, I wanted something that was more open and mysterious. I remembered a story by Jorge Luis Borges where a person would go underneath a set of stairs through a nexus where the past, present and future were all accessible at the same time. Like being able to stand in one spot and have a time machine. I equate that to the material I handle, historic to contemporary.”
To date, Anton has staged three shows with Nexus Singularity. The first, an exhibition of Virginia contemporary artist JJ Cromer, was a success. On four images posted, the dealer sold 14 works to a single collector who had never purchased from him before. The next show featured a series of artworks by Alexandra Duprez where the artist created pictures on the inside of book covers. He sold one work that show. His third and most recent exhibition was on Terry Turrell, the self-taught Seattle artist.
“It’s serendipitous to some extent,” Anton said, “But I’m selling the art world as I see it, which is what every dealer does. But I’m at a point where I don’t miss sitting in a shop all day.”
Other digital outlets abound for Anton, including the forthcoming Outsider Art Fair, where the dealer will present the obsessively stitched clothing of Robert Adale Davis among other artists. He will also offer anonymous works from both the Twentieth Century and earlier, including a Nineteenth Century Conestoga wagon chain with figural forged legs and a copper man that was once in the collection of Estelle Friedman.
Anton relates that he started as a dealer focused on objects of the past and was brought forth to the present through the thrill of discovering artists in the current moment who push our notions of what art can be.
Nexus Singularity’s next show is undetermined, its schedule an improvisational jazz melody converted to the third dimension.
Of his new venture with the infinite doorway, Anton said, “My goals were no rent, no employees, and everything had to be found on site. The result is a little funky, but I’m having fun.”
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