Published: February 9, 2016
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
NEW YORK CITY — The Outsider Art Fair came in from the cold and blazed with passionate color and form inside the Metropolitan Pavilion, January 21–24, while the city hunkered down against a weekend blizzard that brought it to a virtual standstill in the midst of Americana Week. Previously occupied by the Metro Curates, the well-laid-out, -lit and -situated venue showcased the 24th edition of this popular niche show with 60 dealers — the most in its history — exhibiting an abundance of self-taught artwork from both renowned names and emerging stars.
Under its second year of management by Wide Open Arts, led by gallerist Andrew Edlin and directed by Becca Hoffman, the fair stayed in Chelsea for this edition, but decamped from the more problematic former home of the Dia Art Foundation, which had exhibitors set up on three different floors, to one that put the whole shooting match on one level with wide aisles and eye-friendly LED lighting.
Veteran dealer Marion Harris has exhibited at this show since its inception. The New York City dealer said, “The Outsider Fair went well for most of us — the crowd was good and buyers enthusiastic — although some business was probably lost because of the storm and all road traffic being banned on Saturday. The new location was welcomed by everyone — dealers and customers — and even with the weather, pack-out was fine. I don’t think we could have said that in the old Chelsea location!”
Harris said she sold photography by Morton Bartlett and JED — who was making his debut at this fair — several ceramics from the Holloway Prison art program, a woman’s prison in London, as well as assemblages by Peter Thomashow, a psychiatrist and compulsive collector whose creations coalesce from his huge stockpile of antique toys and objects. Harris showed a selection of vernacular or found photography by JED, whose images have been retrieved (with permission) after being deliberately discarded by their original makers over the last decade. Inspired by the concept of “The Artist’s Struggle,” these abandoned images and test strips, rejected by their creators, are presented out of context exemplifying the search for the perfect photograph.
Chicago gallerist Carl Hammer showed such Outsider staples as Henry Darger (1892–1973), Joseph Yoakum, Howard Finster and Bill Traylor, among others. The primary work by Darger was an untitled and panoramic double-sided carbon transfer and watercolor on paper incorporating a parlor scene and other elements of the reclusive Chicago hospital custodian’s fantasies. Darger’s posthumously discovered artworks now reside in the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other places. Four works by Yoakum (1889–1972) were grouped on one wall, each measuring 12 by 18 inches, rendered in colored pencil and ballpoint pen on paper and illustrating landscapes in his highly individual style.
“The show went well when we had an audience of people in attendance,” said Hammer afterward. “Sales were very good on the two days that we had people attending. The show site, though new for the OAF, is familiar to most New Yorkers and the floor plan was well thought out and built out.”
French dealer Dominique Polad-Hardouin runs a contemporary art gallery in Paris. This was her second time exhibiting at the Outsider Art Fair. “I am very pleased with the way this fair is organized,” she said. “I sold well the first day at the preopening —13 pieces — essentially works from the Syrian Sabhan Adam and from the two French artists Caroline Demangel and Emmanuelle Renard. Unfortunately, the snowstorm stopped the dynamic. Overall, I am very proud that the artists of my gallery have had the opportunity to include important private collections in the States, and I am delighted to meet my American colleagues and some museum art directors.”
The fair was also very good for Fred Giampietro, the New Haven, Conn., folk art specialist and gallerist whose booth included a large 1989 mixed media titled “Smooth Going Cats,” 1989, by Thornton Dial, who recently passed away. Giampietro had great success with a series of surrealistic “portraits” by Czech artist Jana Paleckova, who transforms vintage photographs gleaned from rummage sales, antiques shops and flea markets into a whole different kind of narrative.
“We had over 50 sales in all ranges,” said Giampietro. “We were pleased that our debut of the work of Jana Paleckova sold out. The art fair model is what works here. It is a focused curation that is accessible. Many other venues are still hanging onto expensive previews and daily admissions. There is the sense of discovery here, rather than a sense of work being overevaluated.”
The riotously animated work by Haitian masters shared space with emotionally charged paintings by other folk, self-taught and Outsider artists at Galerie Bonheur, owned by Laurie Ahner of St Louis. Her booth had a special amount of interest in the passionate works of art by Mary Whitfield of Alabama (b 1957); Amos Ferguson, Bahamas (1920–2009); Craig Norton, Missouri; Pavel Leonov, Russia; and Milton Bond of Connecticut. “We also sold work by Sandra Sheehy of England, Isidoro Duque of Venezuela, and several Haitian, Polish and Cuban artists,” reported Ahner. “It was a fantastic show with a wonderful variety of booths and artwork from many countries, and I was happy to see a lot of true folk art included, as well as more sophisticated self-taught artists.”
For Ahner, who has been in business, since 1980, the crowds for Thursday night’s vernissage and Friday during the day and evening were “reminiscent of the huge crowds we had at the fair in the first few years back in the 1990s, starting the first year in 1993, when Outsider Art was just getting to be a term, and collectors were just starting to pay attention to this field. Those were exciting years, and we veteran dealers sold a lot of art and started many important collections. We also educated the world to this genre.”
Featured prominently at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, was Kevin Sampson’s mixed media sculpture “St John.” An untitled 1970s pastel, ink and embroidery on paper from the 1970s by Czech artist Anna Zemankova (1908–1986) was among the firm’s key sales. The piece had been featured at the Venice Biennale, according to the firm’s co-principal Randall Morris. A Zemankova exhibition, “Twilight Before Dawn: Anna Zemankova,” closes at the gallery on February 13.
“Despite losing a complete day to the weather, Cavin-Morris Gallery did quite well, to our surprise,” said Morris. “The opening and Friday crowd was all that could be desired, people were really interested in what was being shown and appreciating the new setup of the fair in its location. Our booth was a heady mixture of known and unknown artists. This year has been a very rich one for us in terms of discovering new and previously unseen artists from both the United States and other countries.”
Showgoers seemed to gravitate to the space just in front of the exhibit by Situations, New York City, a collaborative, curatorial project founded by four artists — Sam Gordon, Jackie Klempay, Mariah Robertson and Jacob Robichaux. The group’s presentation, “Tabboo! Vs Henry Darger,” was a mini-exhibition conceived specifically for the context of this fair. “We juxtaposed works by two visionary, idiosyncratic and prolific artists — Henry Darger, one of the most celebrated Outsider artists, and Tabboo! [Stephen Tashjian], an underground artist and creative force whose vision expands across disciplines: performance, theater, cabaret, video and film, music, illustration and graphic design,” said Robichaux. “The context of The Outsider Art Fair was the perfect setting for us to consider the artists’ shared interests and visual languages, and the value of hierarchical labels like insider and outsider.”
Robichaux added that his group placed many works in collections before the fair opened, and met and made sales to new clients.
Highlights at Just Folk, Summerland, Calif., included craypas (crayon and pastel) drawings by Eddie Arning (1893–1993) of objects from everyday life — farm scenes, plants, animals, automobiles and windmills. He was born in a small farming town near Austin, Texas, lived and worked on his family’s farm until his mid-twenties when he began to have bouts of mental illness and was subsequently institutionalized.
“I was very pleased with OAF this year,” said Susan Baerwald, owner of Just Folk. “I had taken a year off last year for various reasons but was happy to be back. The venue was much more satisfactory than the previous one at the Dia building. Having all the dealers on the same floor meant that the visitors had much more room to get around and didn’t have to choose which of three or four floors they wanted to spend time on. And the layout was much more spacious and inviting. I thought the fair brought a wonderful mix of art together, and there was something for everyone interested in the various strata of Outsider art.”
“This year’s fair was the best in our 24-year history as far as the dynamism and diversity of the dealers,” concluded Andrew Edlin, who was not only the show manager, but continued the tradition as an exhibitor. “The mix of veteran stalwarts and up-and-comers made a deep impression on our visitors, many who eagerly await the fair’s arrival every year. Business was brisk, and we bounced back strongly after the storm on Sunday.”
For additional information, www.outsiderartfair.com or 212-337-3338.
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