Published: February 7, 2012
Just across the street from the Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world, was a most unusual display of art executed by people that, judging from the presentations, have told some of the tallest stories in the world. Both constitute marvels in their own right; the Empire State Building a cultural one; Sanford Smith’s Outsider Art Fair a unique slice of culture †one that has, perhaps, witnessed things go somewhat awry.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the show opened at 7 West 34th for a well-attended gala preview party on Thursday, January 26, and continued through the weekend. No longer considered a rowdy teen, the Outsider Art Fair has matured beyond its years. Thirty-five dealers from around the world participated in the fair, displaying the art of untrained artists, the art of the incarcerated and institutionalized, and the art of a host of other artists that may, or may not, fit into one or more of the aforementioned categories.
Electrifying, invigorating †sometimes humorous, sometimes horrifying †the art presented around the floor ranged from raw to refined. Smiles, frowns and winces are common reactions, as are the appreciative eyes cast toward not only the plentiful selection of mainstream artists, but also the up-and-comers, and even the yuk-a-buck artists out to make a buck.
The assortment of art by internationally recognized artists was grandiose †as were, in some cases, the prices. Pencil drawings on found paper by Bill Traylor were routinely marked in excess of $100,000, with a primitive drawing titled “Man Walking Dog” marked $115,000 at Judy Saslow, Chicago, and where “Red Goat with Snake” was stickered $125,000.
Another Bill Traylor pencil drawing on found board was seen at Stephen Romano, Brooklyn, N.Y., where it was marked “price on request.” A “hold” sticker was affixed to the work moments after the doors opened for the preview party. Another artist featured in Romano’s stand was Charles Dellschau, whose intricate and colorful mixed media watercolors also found favor. Three works sold within minutes of opening, including “Sexion Bomber,” a double-sided work titled “On Wather Land and Cldous,” as well as an untitled work.
A Possum Trot figure that once created a folk art environment in the Mojave Desert, Calif., made by Calvin and Ruby Black was $50,000 at American Primitive Gallery, New York City. Terry Turrell was well represented by the gallery. The more than a dozen Turrell works offered ranged from “Weather Vain,” a figure encrusted with found objects holding an open umbrella over her head, $3,400, to a large carved wood and panted figure in a sporting pose titled “Volley” and marked $4,800.
“Caballero” by Martin Ramirez, circa 1953, pencil and colored pencil on paper, was at Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York City, as were three large mixed media works by Thornton Dial.
Regular outsider celebrities such as Howard Finster and Jimmy Lee Sudduth were featured at Marcia Weber Art Objects, Montgomery, Ala. Finster’s graphic painting “Gaytes of Hell” was attracting interest at $15,000, as was Finster’s “Gabriel Angel,” that was reasonably marked $2,400. A pair of “Water Scenes” paintings by Sudduth were $4,400.
A trio of paintings by Sudduth in mud, soot and paint on found board were displayed at Tanner Hill Gallery, Atlanta, including “Fayette Courthouse at $5,800; “Wild Woman” at $4,800; and “New York City” at $3,200.
“Thirty years ago I had a psychotic break. I became convinced that any plug I inserted into an electrical outlet would burst into flames&• wrote artist Penny Rockwell, whose art was featured exclusively at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City. “I had to unplug all the plugs in my apartment. Then I had to cut the plug from the fixture, soak it in water, and put it in the cupboard. Then I had to nail the cupboard shut&†I had to nail all the windows and doors shut because otherwise the plugs would crawl in&†My husband divorced me and took my son&†I was alone with the plugs,” continued Rockwell. Seeking forgiveness from her son in her new Plugs-R-OK world, Rockwell executed a series of pen and ink on paper drawings, making up a book that seemingly attempts to explain the situation. Sometimes eerie, sometimes demonic, the drawings were certainly interesting
“That is the ‘Queen Bee Parade’ by my Uncle John Whipple,” explained Noah Antieau of the Red Truck Gallery, New Orleans. Interrupted between hands of an ongoing card game, Antieau, a fellow of large stature clad in blue denim coveralls and a yellow T-shirt, stated that Uncle John had driven the piece “all the way up here” from the Big Easy, arriving just an hour before preview began. The 6-foot-long, found-object-created artwork, complete with a two-man cross-cut saw blade finial on the top, was marked $22,000.
Paintings on wood that stretched the imagination and could be quantified somewhere between the definitions of flash art and circus banner art filled an entire wall of Antieau’s stand. Executed by Bryan Cunningham, “Mud Flap Girl” featured a well-endowed reclining female whose silhouette was filled by her skeleton, with a flaming heart in front of her, a snub nose pistol, a pair of dice and a pair of brass knuckles at her side. The painting was $2,800.
One of the most interesting fronts at Outsider is the inclusion of living artists, particularly ones involved in programs for people with disabilities that use art as therapeutic aids. For the past several years the Land Gallery, Brooklyn, N.Y., a division of the League Education and Treatment Center, has participated in the show. A nonprofit and an internationally recognized agency providing treatment and education of children and adults with psychiatric and developmental disabilities, the Land Gallery is a therapeutic studio space for gifted disabled artists. Land helps artists develop their skills, while marketing their work to the community. The booth was a popular spot this year, with the works of all of their students featured. “We had a very positive response,” stated Land’s Kyle Bowen, who noted sales across the board.
Byron Smith’s bright green shoe-form pillow smacked of an early Andy Warhol watercolor and it was marked sold soon after the show opened for preview. The paintings of Kenya Hanley were attracting attention, including “Coffee Cakes, Computers and Ice Cream.” Yet it was the large tinfoil animal sculptures by Dean Millien, especially his gorilla and elephant’s heads, that were getting the lion’s share of attention. On hand during preview and posing with his sculpture for photographs, Millen’s work made a front and center showing in the Outsider Art Fair’s review in The New York Times, which included a large color photograph. Bowen commented that for some of the pieces, Millien stretches tin foil sheets from floor to ceiling as he commences sculpting. Prices for Millien’s work range from $50 for palm-sized figures to $2,500 for the 50-pound gorilla.
Paintings by Harry Underwood were attracting attention in a couple of different booths around the show, including a stellar selection at Lindsay Gallery, Columbus, Ohio. An Elija Pierce carved wood and painted plaque, “Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery,” was also displayed, marked $8,500.
Unusual construction work by living Virginia artist Peter Tansill was featured at The Ames Gallery, Berkeley, Calif. Tansill terms himself an “assemblage artist” and describes his compositions as “invoking an idea of a more innocent time.” All of his creations feature dolls, many utilize bronzed baby shoes as footwear, and a variety of interesting and colorful forms make up the torsos. Tansill says it may “take months, even years, to find all the parts to complete a piece.”
Another artist featured at the booth was the late Alejandro Aramburo “Alex” Maldonado, whose works included “Vacuum Tower” from 1987 with an artist-decorated frame that was priced at $7,800, and “21st Century Democracy,” from 1981 that was $4,000. “Vacuum Tower” was the artist’s conceived idea to rid the world of pollution as the tower would suck the air “deep underground to 3 super tanks” where pollutants would be removed. “I paint the truths by ready the newspapers, radios and televisions,” is but one of many slogans inscribed on the verso of “21st Century Democracy,” an oil on canvas that depicts a PBS Television news room. Consigned by Maldonado’s nephew, half of the proceeds from the sales of the paintings were being donated to the American Folk Art Museum, according to gallery owner Bonnie Grossman.
The conflict of naughty and nice was spelled out at Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago, with a selection of tattoo flash art painted on emblematic white woman’s gloves by artist Ellen Greene. “White gloves evoke a sense of purity and of formality,” stated gallery owner Aron Packer, “while the art of tattooing may suggest carnal sexuality and rebellion.”
The intricate and unusual art of Lee Groban was also played out at Packer Schopf’s stand, both on the walls and in an ultra-strange video presentation that documented Groban’s unusual presence on earth (and perhaps elsewhere, as he claimed from childhood to be from “MaaAAAaaars”). The author of a poem that is 5,700 pages long, titled “The Cure for Insomnia” (excerpts may be witnessed in You Tube videos †search word “Lee Groban”), Groban also found the time to produce highly detailed, complex and unusual colored ink and marker drawings that covered the walls of the Packer Schopf’s booth. Two untitled works in vibrant colors, both circa 1975, were $6,000 each.
A George Widener ink on found paper titled “Titanic” sold as the doors to preview opened at Henry Boxer Gallery, Richmond, UK. Limited edition prints of the work were being offered at The Shop of Everything, a stand presented by The Museum of Everything, whose collaborators include “leading artists, curators & thinkers” such as Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and David Byrne.
Lectures, conversations and film programs began on opening day of the show and continued until closing on Sunday, with talks by Rutgers’ professor emeritus Charles Russell, Stacy C. Hollander of the American Folk Art Museum, Fordham’s Dr Barbara Mundy and gallery owner Martha Henry, among others.
For additional information, www.sanfordsmith.com or 212-777-5218.
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