Published: March 14, 2023
Review & Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
NEW YORK CITY – Sixty-three exhibitors, hailing from 15 states and seven international countries, gathered once again for the 31st Annual Outsider Art Fair, which took place at the Metropolitan Pavilion March 2-5. In addition to several dealers who deal in the blue chip “Outsider Old Masters,” – including but not limited to Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, Martin Ramirez, Minnie Evans, William Hawkins and William Edmondson – the fair welcomed exhibitors who showed the work of living artists, both those with an established following, and “emerging” ones new to the field.
“The fair was packed the whole time and our exhibitors were extremely happy, which is the ultimate barometer of success,” said fair chief executive officer Andrew Edlin. “So many folks went out of their way to tell me they thought the quality of the work being shown was better than ever.”
As the fair has done in past years, two curated non-selling exhibitions were presented for the interest of viewers. Closest to the front entrance was a suite of eight paintings by American artist and architect Paul Laffoley (1935-2015), in an exhibition titled “The Life and Death of Elvis Presley: A Suite.” Begun in 1988 and completed in 1995, the group represents distinct phases of Presley’s life as viewed by the artist.
In the back corner of the show’s floor was the exhibition, “We Are Birds,” which was curated by Grammy award-winning music producer Randall Poster and Andrew Edlin in partnership with The Birdsong Project and in support of the National Audubon Society. The exhibition featured dozens of works inspired by birdlife made by nearly 50 self-taught and contemporary artists.
Edlin fronted his own booth with two 4-foot-long two-panel double-sided watercolor and graphite works on paper by Henry Darger; inside, he proffered works by George Widener, Joe Coleman, Ray Masterson, Martin Ramirez, Marcel Storr, Domenico Zindato and two tooled and painted leather compositions by Winfred Rembert, whose pieces are enjoying immense popularity lately. Early on Friday, sold dots were seen on a Morton Bartlett untitled silver gelatin print, two George Widener mixed media pieces, a work by Tom Duncan, and one by Henry Darger.
One of the first booths inside the show was that of Philadelphia’s Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. Early sales included three ink and pen on paper works by Dorothy Foster, two carved pieces by Miles Carpenter, one work each by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (ink on paper), William Edmondson (carved stone lamb) and David Butler (enamel on wood). Examples by two artists the gallery represents: Felipe Jesus Consalvos and the Philadelphia Wireman, also had sales.
Across the aisle from Fleisher/Ollman, Yukiko Koide Presents, large boldly colored works by Yuichito Ukai immediately caught the eye. The artist is inspired by Japanese pop culture and monsters. Once inside the booth, one’s attention was attracted by the detail of two late Twentieth Century sets of netsuke made from plastic – one painted in colors, the other painted a dark red to imitate cinnabar. On the other side of the booth, two cut paper pieces by Yuki Fujioka appeared as if the paper is rendered from individual threads. The Kyoto-based gallery sold at least one of them during the show.
Nexus Singularity / Aarne Anton, Pomona, N.Y., made several sales, including an untitled paint on posterboard by Lonnie Holley.
“It was an exciting Outsider Art Fair for us at Nexus Singularity (formerly American Primitive Gallery) this year. We have been part of the OAF since its beginning with Sanford Smith. I recall wondering if there was enough of a market for this different kind of art and antiques with other dealers. Clearly there is now under the direction of Andrew Edlin and friends. This year saw many new dealers and a widening range of art exhibited. I saw many contemporary artists visiting the fair and buying, as well as curators and museum directors. A broader spectrum of the public attends enthusiastically with many new and old collectors engaging.”
“My own presentation behind the antique door to Nexus Singularity was my most elaborate ever, meant to be an experience. I was inspired by seeing the room environment as a cabinet of curiosities by Surrealist Andre Breton, who was an early influential collector and poet, that Tina and I had a chance to see at Centre Pompidou in Paris last fall. I reached into my past, presenting a host of folk art by self-taught artists as well as many anonymous pieces of mystery.”
“The featured artist on my dark wall was Moses Ogden (1844-1919) an artist I have been obsessed with for more than 30 years. With the help of the late Peter Tillou who collected his wood carvings, his identity was revealed as the creator of Moses Ogden’s Wonderland, one of the earliest documented folk art environments – see the latest issue of Raw Vision magazine.”
Across from Anton, bG Gallery featured several works by living artist, Gregory Horndeski, who was in attendance to talk about his work to anyone who stopped by. Working with acrylic paint and knives, Horndeski’s expressionistic style was influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, Rene Magritte and Jackson Pollock.
“I had a great time at the fair,” Horndeski told Antiques and The Arts Weekly when we reached out for follow up. “I can’t speak for all the other members of the bG Gallery team that participated, but the fair lived up to my expectations. I met numerous new, potential collectors as well as people who saw my work when bG participated in the fair last year. This is our third appearance in OAF. Although we did not sell any of our larger pieces, they did bring people to our booth. It also helped that the online version of ArtNews ranked us as the seventh best booth in the fair. Gothamist gave us a good review and NPR covered our gallery in their story on OAF. If the few people who said they would buy something come through, and I think they will, our sales would be better this year than last year, in which case our sales would have increased each year that we have participated. But my work seems to resonate with many East Coast collectors, so I am not surprised.”
“Thursday and Friday were solid with several good sales, including an important American asylum embroidery, a folk art chair by Hosea Hayden, two works by Nek Chand, George Ohr, and three works by James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas which his George Washington was featured in The New York Times, plus a few anonymous works. Crowds throughout the weekend were strong and jamming each day,” said Steve Powers, Brooklyn and lower-Manhattan based dealer who is also the vice president of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America.
A stand-out work Powers was offering was a wool appliqued bed rug from coastal Maine, early or mid-Nineteenth Century, that measured 78 by 83 inches. In exceptional condition, the rug attracted the attention of both The New York Times show critic Will Heinrich and Quilts in America (1974) author Patsy Orlofsky, who Powers quoted as calling it “the most remarkable, raw folk art textile that she had ever seen.”
“We did well, but we always do well at Outsider,” reported Frank Maresca. Ricco/Maresca Gallery transacted sales of works by William Edmondson, Bill Traylor, Martín Ramírez, Adolf Wölfli, Leonard Strobl, Morton Bartlett, Hydeon (Ian Ferguson), William Hawkins and Eddie Arning. “This year was strange only because we made a high percentage of our sales…mostly from our [online] viewing room.” Maresca observed that “things seemed quite lovely on the floor,” and that the show “looked good from a design point of view.”
Manchester, United Kingdom, dealer Jennifer Lauren, sold an untitled woodfired ceramic piece by Shinichi Sawada early in the show, as well as a set of dried leaf origami or “Oriha” by Yoshihiro Watanabe. Lauren explained that Watanabe uses only oak leaves, selected during the fall, when the leaves retain the right balance of moisture and decay to allow him to render highly detailed and character-filled creatures.
“I took seven sets of [Watanabe’s] along to the fair and sold all before the end of the fair – people loved them,” Lauren said. She reported a good mix of people to her booth, noting a particular response to the work of Cara Macwilliam, a self-taught disabled visual artist who is housebound but who “travels” into surreal landscapes and mythologies using watercolor and dip.
Bill Arning presented, in “3 Bad Girls resist the Neo-puritan mob,” the work of three artists: Thedra Cullar Leford, Alexandria Deters and Alyssa Kazew. Ledford’s powerful images of breasts and vulvas, painted on metal trays after she had a double mastectomy, references Renaissance images of Saint Agatha who was martyred by having her breasts cut off. Within the first 24 hours of the show, Arning had sold six of them.
Bold textile sculptures by Tranesha Smith-Kilgore caught the eye in the booth of Creativity Explored, a studio-based collective in San Francisco that partners with developmentally disabled artists.
Emitte Hych’s bold, colorful and whimsical images of animals are reminiscent of those of William Hawkins and there were several in the presentation launched by The Pardee Collection.
Mark Mason Karelson, owner and president of Mason Fine Art, had a booth full of works by such blue chip artists as Sam Doyle, Purvis Young, Nellie Mae Rowe, Bill Traylor, Jim Sidduth and Clement Hunter. He was particularly pleased to have sold “Cancer” by Ulysses Davis, which he said was “very rare.”
Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific Rail employee John A. Adams (1891-1967) was inspired by the sand bottle “paintings” of Andrew Clemens (1857-1894). In 1933, Adams made his own bottle that depicted on one side a train and on the other side, a globe with flags symbolizing the League of Nations. Norman Brosterman was offering it as well as a series of framed “mail art” envelopes made by the Columbus, Ohio, family of Grant Hilbert and mailed to him at various addresses in Toledo, Ohio. After the show, Brosterman deemed the Hilberts “a hit,” having sold four of the eight he had brought to the show.
“The show went well,” said Marion Harris, who has been exhibiting at the Outsider Art Fair since its inception 31 years ago and endured its various manifestations. “Lots of new customers. The Outsider field is appealing to a wider audience each year. The Connor Brothers work sold well – especially meaningful for us having introduced their work to a New York audience at the fair in 2014 when they were still anonymous. There is a growing interest in works by women artists and some clients specifically collect works only by female artists.”
The New York City dealer reported selling Morton Bartlett prints, Daniel Rohrig watercolors and ceramics by Jordan Laura MacLachkan, from Toronto.
Under the direction of Kevin Vogel, Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden of Dallas, was making its debut at the Outsider Art Fair. Exclusively presenting the work of graphic artist and painter Valton Taylor (1944-2017), who created futuristic landscapes in bold colors. Ranging in date from 1973 for “Brace” to an untitled blue and green composition that measured 76-5/8 by 95-5/8 inches.
Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) was a former union organizer whose large scale urban scenes – which he intended to be viewed in union halls rather than in private homes – sensitively depict working class life and struggle. Hill Gallery, who represents Fasanella’s estate, featured a couple of Fasanella’s large works as well as several of his smaller portraits. Marc Fasanella, Ralph’s son and an artist in his own right, was on hand during the fair to talk to showgoers about his dad’s work.
“It was a good show but a very emotional experience,” Marc Fasanella told us when we spoke after the fair. “My dad had this tremendous sense of showing the dignity of the working class. We tried to make this presentation about that. The show has exposed his work to a lot of people.”
Fasanella was pleased to say the gallery sold one of the most important of his father’s works at the show – a 50-by-72-inch oil on canvas work titled “Mill Town – Weaving Department.”
Dates for the 32nd edition of the Outsider Art Fair have not yet been announced.
For additional information, www.outsiderartfair.com.
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