Published: February 13, 2018
Since joining Christie’s in 2014, Cara Zimmerman, vice president, specialist, folk and Outsider art, has developed and expanded the firm’s Outsider art sales, creating standalone auctions for the category while continuing to head the firm’s high profile with folk art. Before joining Christie’s, she worked for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and served as executive director for the Foundation for Self-Taught Artists in Philadelphia. She has extensive experience editing and writing about Outsider art and is a contributor to Raw Vision magazine. Zimmerman received her AB from Harvard University, her MA from the University of Delaware and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. We caught up to this rising star for her reflections on the success of her January 2018 sale and her impressions of where the field is headed.
Do the results of your January 2018 sale suggest any trends collectors should be following?
Our January sale results reveal the strength of the overall Outsider art market, and we witnessed the depth of bidding and strong interest one wants to see in a thriving field. The “old master Outsiders,” as we call artists including Aloise Corbaz, Henry Darger, William Edmondson, Bill Traylor and Adolf Wolfli, performed exceptionally well and were sought by collectors of contemporary, Modern, Outsider and folk art, suggesting that Outsider art and Art Brut has the power to transcend collecting categories. I also saw great interest in works by Southern African American artists, including those by Thornton Dial and Hawkins Bolden, which suggests their markets are solid and developing.
Were there any surprises in the sale results? To what can you attribute that to?
I was surprised -and wonderfully so – by the sale price of the Darger watercolor [$672,000]. While his work has commanded high prices for quite some time, this result was the highest on record for a piece of this scale. I believe this outcome was due to the desirability of both sides of the work (often, Dargers have one side that is more impressive than the other), it was in very good condition and was fresh to the market. I was also thrilled by the price achieved by the Aloise Corbaz [$137,500], which set a new auction record for the artist. Its success was due in part to its provenance, as it was owned by the Compagnie de L’Art Brut and Andre Breton.
What is it about Outsider art that speaks to collectors?
Top Outsider artists have unique and remarkable visual languages, and these appear in a variety of media and forms, some makeshift, some monumental, that comfortably reconcile the substance of their messages with aesthetic power. I also believe collectors are drawn to the honesty and openness of Outsider works and relish the gaps these artworks fill in the larger narrative of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century creation. The artists’ personal and nuanced ways of seeing the world expand a viewer’s understanding of the capacity of human expression.
Are there any artists you haven’t sold who you’d most like to put on the auction block?
Increasingly, I’ve been offering works by living artists in our sales, as I find it important to expand the field going forward and to help these newer artists establish secondary market values. There are so many artists and artworks I would love to include in sales. Two that come to mind are A.G. Rizzoli, whose fantastical architectural renderings are incredibly intricate, rare and sophisticated, and Susan Te Kahurangi King, a tremendously talented living artist whose art has only recently attracted the attention it deserves.
You made the decision to include European Outsider artists as well as American Outsider artists – will you actively pursue works by European Outsider artists for future sales? Was interest in European Outsider works limited to international buyers?
I will actively continue to pursue European works as well as American works going forward, as I feel the European material is integral to understanding the larger constructs of Outsider art, its development over the Twentieth Century and its future in the years to come. Buyers of European works in our auctions come from a range of countries, and in this last sale, we had buyers and bidders for this material from both the United States and across the globe.
You joined Christie’s in 2014; in that relatively brief time, is there a work you’ve sold that you’re particularly proud to have handled?
There have been a couple highlights for me already, one of which was William Edmondson’s “Boxer,” which we sold in January 2016. This incredibly rare sculpture set the record for a piece of Outsider art sold at auction, earning $785,000 and firmly establishing Christie’s role as the leader in this auction market.
Care to make any predictions about the future of Outsider art?
I see the future as incredibly bright! I believe that, as boundaries of artistic categories continue to evolve and blur in a Postmodern context, the conversation between Outsider and mainstream Postwar art will continue to develop. I also think that we will see an increasing number of large museums engaged with and collecting this art.
-Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos courtesy Christie’s
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