Published: March 22, 2022
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Editor
NEW YORK CITY – One of the last events to take place in January 2020, just before the pandemic shuttered the world, was the Outsider Art Fair (OAF). After going virtual in 2021 and rescheduling from late January/early February to early March to avoid the peak of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the 30th edition of the fair took place at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan, March 3-6. A total of 59 exhibitors were on the floor – 55 from the United States, two from France, and one each from the United Kingdom and Japan. Eleven exhibitors were participating for the first time.
“It was fantastic,” fair owner, Andrew Edlin said, speaking to Antiques and The Arts Weekly more than a week after the fair closed. “All things considered, with the hurdles, it was tremendously successful.”
Edlin noted that attendance to the fair was largely comparable to the 2020 edition. To alleviate concerns showgoers might have, the length of the VIP preview on Thursday afternoon was extended to give collectors the opportunity to really look at the fair and not worry about crowds, though he said the level of alarm surrounding Covid-19 had decreased.
For this edition, Edlin and his team devoted more square footage to special curated spaces, which he said generated a lot of talk and press.
Curated by contemporary artist, Fred Tomaselli, “Field Trip: Psychedelic Solution, 1986-1995” was one such space, featuring works championed by Jacaeber Kastor and his underground Greenwich Village, N.Y., gallery, Psychedelic Solution. The space was filled with work closely associated with the widespread use of LSD and other hallucinogens in the 1960s. Some of the artists linked to the movement were recognizable for their contributions to album cover art, comic and poster art.
Before becoming known worldwide as the lead singer of the rock band, R.E.M., Michael Stipe studied art at the University of Georgia, Athens. During college, Stipe met artists across the region, occasionally acquiring their works. “Maps and Legends: Featuring Works from the Collection of Michael Stipe” was one of the curated spaces and included works by Thornton Dial, St EOM, Dilmus Hall, Bessie Harvey, Howard Finster, R.A. Miller, Royal Robertson, Juanita Rogers and Jimmy Lee Sudduth, to name a few.
A third curated space explored the work of self-taught artists who have traveled a path outside of academia to create and promote their work, while the last mini exhibition featured the work of Bruce Bickford (1947-2019), a master of clay animation.
Many of the artists the field of Outsider and Self Taught art has built up around – and who are occasionally referred to as “Outsider Old Masters” – include Bill Traylor, Eddie Arning, Thornton Dial, William Hawkins, Martin Ramirez, Joseph Yoakum, Minnie Evans, James Castle, Henry Darger and George Widener, to name just a few. These names were evident throughout the fair, as well as works by emerging artists. The field has been particularly vibrant and receptive to less widely known artists lately, most notably at Christie’s February 3 Outsider Art auction (reviewed in the February 25 issue of Antiques and The Arts Weekly), in which records were set for nine artists, none of them considered Outsider Old Masters.
Brooklyn-based Steven S. Powers, who is currently the president of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America (ADA) and a leading expert in Woodlands sculpture and treen, has been doing the Outsider Art Fair for five years. He says the OAF is different from the antiques shows he has or currently participates in, in which hundreds of people are on the floor at any given time, with traffic consistently busy up until the show closed at 6 pm on Sunday evening.
Powers, who sold two works by Bill Traylor privately prior to the show, was showing a variety of things but called attention to art by Edwin Lawson (1911-1980), a body of work done in the early 1970s that no one had ever mounted. Lawson made pencil and crayon illustrations of women dressed in historic fashions through the ages. He was offering ten individual pieces; the works saw a lot of interest and he had a buyer for one of them by the end of the show.
“The interesting thing at the Outsider Art Fair, as far as the material is concerned, it’s much more ‘left of center,'” Powers noted. “There is sometimes a learning curve with buyers. In the antiques and folk art world, people are familiar with, and OK, with works by anonymous artists, there isn’t a hesitation. Here, people are more hesitant to step out on unknown artists.
“I made sales every day. You talk to more people than you ever talk to [at an antiques show]. It’s the most accessible show that people go to – there are works there from $500 to $500,000. No one shows anything with any pretention. It’s an atmosphere that people in their 20s can be comfortable in.”
Aarne Anton, who previously exhibited under the name American Primitive but after closing his gallery at the beginning of the pandemic, the Pomona, N.Y., dealer now shows under the name Nexus Singularity. After the fair, he reported back while away in California.
“Tina and I have been exhibitors for each of the 30 years of OAF. This show was one of the best for us. For this OAF, I featured a number of artists I represent, including JJ Cromer, Terry Turrell, Daniel Martin Diaz and Eugene Andolsek. I created one wall of art painted black that I tagged “unknown, undefined, unforgotten.” There, I featured folk art discoveries in stone, wood, wire, bones and paintings of mystery. I had been saving up rare sculptures by Jesse Aaron, Burgess Dulaney, Derek Webster and QJ Stephenson, all of which sold. The show visitors seemed excited to be coming out of their cocoons and seeing such a diversity of art to please and challenge the eye.”
Like Anton, Carl Hammer has been doing the OAF for all 30 years. He reported numerous sales and said this edition “ranks right up there with the top previous fairs,” noting that perhaps the top responses were for works by Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum and Lee Godie.
Norfolk, Conn., gallerist Marion Harris, is another fair veteran who has also been at the show since its inception. “I think [the show] was one of the best ever, and I know many agree. Not just because of pent-up interest but I think interest in Outsider art is peaking and more collectors want to own as they learn about this emerging field.
“I was pleased to show Morton Bartlett, whose work I introduced in the early years of the fair and which is now in major museums including the Met. And, this year I sold several works by Daniel Rohrig, unknown until recently. His works surfaced recently and are now in the permanent collection of Museum of Folk Art and in its current exhibit. With a similar history to Bartlett, although the work is very different, [Rohrig] died in 1969, never having exhibited his work. It was first sold at the fair in 2018. We also sold several sculptures by Jordan Laura MacLachlan.”
Ricco/Maresca Gallery has been working with Outsider and Self-Taught art since the late 1970s and is a pioneer in the field. Frank Maresca was featuring works by many Outsider Old Masters, including Bill Traylor, three of which featured red sold dots early in the Vernissage preview, as well as a work by George Widener titled “Free/Not Free.”
“It was one of the best [fairs] we have ever done,” said 16-year fair veteran Duff Lindsay. “Morris Ben Newman’s paintings were very well received. We sold most of the pieces we brought. His work was singled out in the New York Times and that created a lot of buzz. We had very strong sales all through the fair and the crowds were huge. We saw many of our long time clients and made strong sales to new clients, particularly young collectors which is really great to see.”
An OAF veteran for a decade, Fountain House Gallery, which represents artists living with mental illness, was showcasing works made during the pandemic lockdown, by five artists: Zeus Hope, Roger Jones, Angela Rogers, Alyson Vega and Laura Anne Walker. It was the first time Zeus Hope had presented works at the OAF.
Tom Parker, director at Hirschl & Adler Modern, said, “The Outsider Art Fair is among my favorite shows. I love the energy, the sense of discovery. There’s something for everyone and we always see a great mix. It’s a democratic and populist fair. There are youthful collectors up to very established deep pocket collectors; it attracts a wonderful crowd. I like that – it’s dynamic in that way. We try to have something for everyone. We made many new connections; it’s always something I count on. The show doesn’t disappoint in that sense.”
Hirschl & Adler Modern, which has participated in OAF for eight or nine years, has a long history with Outsider Art, being one of the first mainstream New York City galleries to handle works by Outsider Old Master Bill Traylor, as well as Joseph Yoakum and Eddie Arning. Traylor was in plentiful supply in the gallery’s booth, with at least five on offer.
Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee, Wisc., who has done the fair for six years, had great response to the works of Della Wells, which were mostly sold out during the preview. Never-before-seen works by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein also drew attention. New connections with curators and collectors were made, as well as sales consistently through the show.
“Considering this is the first year back in person after last year’s online event, we think the 2022 fair captured the spirit and energy of previous years,” said Ann Kappes, director of Art Partnerships at Creativity Explored, which has been doing the show since 2016. Kappes also noted that sales rivaled earlier years. “We had existing clients and new visitors tell us that OAF is, by far, their favorite art fair. One patron expressed that OAF is less pretentious and more inspired than other fairs, and they look forward to it each year. Another patron told us he has been coming to OAF for ALL 30 years. Even coming out of a pandemic, OAF attracted devoted, long-term audiences as well as new art collectors. The diversity of artwork and attendees is stimulating. Another unique element of this year’s fair was the inclusion of eight nonprofit art studios and galleries who work with, or showcase, disabled artists. The addition of these centers provides a fresh, accessible and important counterbalance alongside the legends of Outsider art like Bill Traylor, James Castle and others.”
Robert Kippur is the only artist Graham Shay 1857 Gallery was showing; they have been showing his works at OAF since 2018. Rather than bring multiple smaller sized works to the show, they exhibited three large-scale ones.
“We focus on a singular artist, Robert Kippur, who painted his dreams and nightmares as a way of processing his emotions. The paintings themselves have many elements and figures that belie a narrative born of a dark imagination. Kippur’s choice of colors is masterful despite his rejection from art school, and the impasto extends up to three inches off the canvas in some places, which requires a closer look to fully comprehend the works,” said gallery manager, Clanci Jo Conover. While the gallery did not make any sales during the show, they made several new connections and were optimistic about closing transactions in the future.
Anni Mackay has been showing at OAF in both Paris and New York City since 2018; BigTown Gallery enjoys its specific focus, energy and community of dealers and artists that she says is “engaging, lively, fresh and super fun.” The gallery represents three distinctly different artists: Peter Eglington from Australia, and Vermont artists Helen Matteson and Rick Skogsberg. She said sales were strong and consistent throughout the show and new connections were made.
“I kept remarking on how amazing the energy was this year! The work, the exhibitors, the attendees…everyone just seemed so joyful to be back in the world and seeing amazing art! This was by far our most successful year at the fair!” enthused Lucy Gross, co-founder of Sage Studio, which has been doing OAF since 2019. The gallery was debuting the work of both Anthony Coleman and King Godwin; Gross said both were very well received, as wasRick Fleming, whose works they showed in 2020.
Doing the fair for the second time was Santa Monica, Calif., dealer bG Gallery, who was showing the work of Gregory Horndeski. After the fair, the gallery said they had fewer small sales than previously but more interest in the larger works. Sales were made on opening day and Sunday.
The 2021 virtual OAF welcomed several new exhibitors, with a few returning to the fair in their in-person show debut. Of these, Chicago-based Hana Pietri Gallery was thrilled with how the fair was. “The ambiance was electric, with a very positive, curious and informed crowd. I decided to do the show because of its excellent reputation, its reach and level of top notch participating galleries and works shown; it met my expectations.” The gallery’s Tiphanie Babinet said that they had made sales and connections with new collectors and were still following up with buyers interested in additional works.
Jennifer Lauren Gilbert, Jennifer Lauren Gallery, was the exhibitor from the United Kingdom. The Manchester gallerist had numerous wood-fired ceramic works by Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada. She reported “People love Sawada’s work. It is the fourth time I have taken them to the fair and there are always new people who have never seen them in the flesh. Many say they are more tactile and far more impressive in the flesh, and also you get a real sense of the color and the sheen from the crystallization of the ash on the surface when you see them in person. I love having discussions with people about them. As he is a non-verbal artist, I really enjoy hearing what other people think they look like or remind them of, or what culture they feel they resonate with!”
OAF fielded a number of exhibitors who had never taken booths before. Among them was ArTech Collective, based in the Bronx, N.Y., who was showing the work of Bin Feng and Rayed Mohamed. Mohamed is a legally blind artist who emigrated as a child with his family from Yemen. The gallery’s Pola Mora said that “all attendees were interested in the artists themselves and were interested in learning about the works. Overall, Nikki and Monica made participating very seamless and easy. It also became a great place to network as we got to know major gallerists in the field of Outsider art, like Andrew Edlin, Steven Powers and Scott Ogdon.
“We decided on OAF because we know we are representing artists that fall into the category of Outsider art. I felt that attendees had a vast knowledge of the field and were happy to see new artists with much talent being represented. Participating in the show absolutely met our expectations – we did sell quite a few works; additionally, our mention in the [New York Times] article by Roberta Smith was beyond meaningful and brought in so much interest from attendees.”
Not only was The Silo, Milanville, Penn., making its gallery debut at OAF but they had the distinction of being the first gallery ever to feature the works of Marina “Chickie” Brown and Berry Horton. Horton was an African American artist whose visionary erotic work emerged from the LGBTQ scene in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago while Brown made drama-filled figure paintings when she was in her 90s.
“So many new collectors to me, one of the great advantages of this fair is the fact that it brings such a different audience,” enthused Houston, Texas, gallerist Bill Arning, who had participated in OAF’s public programs at previous fairs but was doing the fair as an exhibitor for the first time. He shows the work of Wayne Gilbert, a Texas artist who used cremated human remains as paint. “This was truly the only fair where we could hope to find a sympathetic audience and that proved to be true; while beautiful, many find the idea of deceased people unsettling.” Arning said he made sales during the fair to buyers who followed up with positive feedback.
New York City’s Shelter Gallery has shared space with Brooklyn-based LAND Studio & Gallery in the past, but this is the first year Shelter has had their own booth. “We’ve seen the fair grow and change under Andrew’s leadership, and we couldn’t be happier with the result. We had consistent sales throughout the show, although without a doubt Nicole Appel’s drawings were popular with all visitors, in part due to their aesthetic beauty and approachable subject matter. Her works are “Patchwork Portraits” of individuals she knows and/or admires, with a particularly poignant moment during the fair being when Jerry Saltz visited and realized she had made a piece dedicated to him that included her drawings of his artwork.”
Though an increasing number of people are traveling internationally, the number of visitors from outside of the United States was notably fewer than in previous years. That was the observation by François Vertadier of the Marseilles gallery, Polysémie, which was one of just a few international exhibitors. He said that while OAF had been a good show, with numerous visitors, good sales and new clients, he was disappointed that it predominantly featured artists from the United States.
Edlin plans to permanently schedule the 2023 New York Outsider Art Fair in early March. He was pleased that the Paris edition, which will celebrate its tenth year in 2022, will take place in mid September, a new time for that fair as well.
For additional information, www.outsiderartfair.com.
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