Published: February 13, 2007
Powerful, energetic and en vogue, three words that aptly define not only the works of art that were marketed at Sanford Smith’s Outsider Art Fair, but also the fair itself. The cornerstone of Outsider Art Week, Smith’s fair stimulates the senses and creates excitement, and much like sex, excitement sells.
Touted as the “only fine art fair devoted exclusively to outsider, art brut, primitive, visionary and intuitive art,” the show, now in its 15th year, looked better than ever. Conducted January 26–28, the high voltage show is colorful and brimming with creativity.
Having grown from an oddity within the art market to an acceptable and highly desirable category, outsider art continues to prove that its day has come.
A category that was once naively coined as art created by untrained Southern black artists, outsider art now encompasses every form of art imaginable, as well as some unimaginable. It is created by every sort of artistically untrained person imaginable, and, as might well be expected, some unimaginable. As terminology and acceptance of outsider art continues to expand, borders have disappeared with recognition spreading across every continent.
The new sweethearts of the outsider world seem to be those from the past that exhibited compulsive, obsessive and mentally unstable traits. Institutionalized artists such as Martin Ramirez, whose work is the focus of the current exhibition at The American Folk Art Museum, have become enormously popular. The drawings that German physiatrist Dr Paul Goesch collected while observing patients during the 1920s were catching the eye of collectors, as were the works by Austrian artists with psychiatric disabilities who have lived and worked at the Gugging “House of Artists.”
Newly discovered artists from past and present continue to keep this show fresh and lively. It also fuels anticipation for the throngs of collectors that mob it annually. The fair boasts a roster of 33 international dealers that travel from throughout the United States and from as far as Europe and Japan to exhibit. Each of them brings top quality merchandise to the table.
The preview party on opening night, a benefit for The American Folk Art Museum, saw huge crowds with NBC sports reporter Andrea Joyce and CBS Early Show news anchor Harry Smith serving as honorary chairs. Collectors ponied up to $1,500 for admission to the staggered preview with the first wave of buyers hitting the floor at 5:30. Patrons opting for a $350 admission ticket hit the floor a half hour later and another wave of buyers paid $200 to make their way through the door at 6:30.
“The good stuff goes within the first few minutes,” commented one buyer as he darted from booth to booth. And while he was not leaving a trail of red dots in his wake, plenty of others were.
The hottest artist of the show was Martin Ramirez and of the three pieces spotted on the floor prior to the preview party, each had been spoken for within moments of the doors opening to the public.
Navajo artist Charlie Willeto was another artist to create quite a stir. Manhattan dealer Phyllis Kind devoted a large portion of her booth to the artist, who worked in the 1960s, creating roughly 300 individual carvings. “He would sell them to trading posts for supplies,” commented Kind, as she gazed about at the 30-plus pieces offered. The entire collection had been amassed by Greg LaChapelle, a contributing author to the book Collective Willeto, who purchased them directly from the trading posts prior to Willeto’s death in 1964.
Priced from $8,000 to $24,000, the carved wooden sculptures of animals and men included spiritual and religious themes. At the top of the price structure was a carving that had been titled “Masked Man,” a brightly painted Shamanistic-type figure with raised arms.
Keny Galleries, Columbus, Ohio, was another of the dealers to offer a selection of Willeto pieces, although its selection consisted of only a handful of examples. Other carvings in the booth included a selection of Elijah Pierce works, including the complex tableau of carved and painted figures titled “Crucifixion.” Sold during preview, the circa 1940 carving depicted Christ and two others on crosses along with a variety of figures and fauna below.
Keny also offered a small carved wooden plaque with two figures dancing by Pierce, priced at $17,500, “Spreading the Light,” circa 1933, was stickered $22,500 as was “Christ Healing the Paralytic at Capernaum.” Paintings in the booth included an enamel on Masonite by William Hawkins that was titled “The Old Hannah Neil Mission Building” and priced at $49,500.
Manhattan dealer Jennifer Pinto Safian had numerous sold tags posted on pieces from her booth shortly after preview opened, with a Martin Ramirez being the first to sell. “Untitled Train,” a large pencil and colored crayon drawing on paper executed in 1954, depicts a train emerging from a tunnel with sweeping arches extending down each side.
Other items to sell from Safian’s stand during the first rush of the preview included “Turkey Pecking Bug,” a tempera on shirt cardboard, circa 1939–42, by Bill Traylor and a double-sided crayon drawing by Aloise Corbaz titled “Raquette, Palais Villa Medicis Corfu.” Another Corbaz had a hold placed on it.
Traylor was also featured in the booth of Luise Ross Gallery with “Untitled (Blue and Red House with Figures and Dog)” among the highlights. Executed on cardboard, the circa 1939–42 piece was marked $125,000. Other Traylor paintings in the booth included a pencil on cardboard titled “figures” that was marked $80,000, “Woman Holding Pocketbook” at $45,000, and a painted scene on cardboard of a black seated figure, also marked $45,000.
Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, also displayed a selection of Bill Traylor works, including a construction with red bird and blue animals that had been done with poster paints and was priced at $85,000. “Pointing Man with Blue Vest,” a pencil and crayon on cardboard, was marked $65,000 and “Cat and Dog,” a pencil and tempera on cardboard, was marked $85,000.
Other items in the booth included an interesting cement and shell figure with a top hat that had been made by casting the cement around bottles. Also offered was a wonderful Albert Zahn carved and painted dove, circa 1940, with white and green wings.
Ricco/Maresca Gallery featured a stunning selection of paintings by William Hawkins, a stone carving of a dove by William Edmondson and dolls by Morton Bartlett.
French dealer J.P. Ritsch-Fisch Galerie featured a diverse selection of materials, including an oil on canvas by Joseph Fleury Crepin titled “No. 103” that listed a provenance of Andre Breton and was priced at $45,000. Mixed media assemblages by A.C.M. were attracting quite a bit of attention. The gallery offered three of the eerie works by the artist, each meticulously constructed of thousands of microchips and electrical components from computers. By the end of the preview, all three had sold.
The work of English artist David Pearce was featured in the booth of Simsbury, Conn., and Manhattan dealer Marion Harris. Pearce, using whatever paint is readily available, sometimes paints on canvas, yet the offering in Harris’s booth featured paintings executed on deconstructed cardboard boxes. His work is colorful, featuring people and animals in seemingly bucolic scenes, although the dealer was quick to point out that the apparent simplicity reveals hidden layers, visually and metaphorically.
Harris also continued to represent David George Marshall, who, during some idle time while working as a surveyor’s assistant some 30 years ago scratched a face on a smooth riverbed rock. Marshall evolved the art form over the years and now creates not only intricate faces deeply carved in stone, but also full figures and scenes, such as a funeral scene complete with coffin, preacher, widow and a half dozen bystanders amid gravestones.
Gilley’s Gallery, Baton Rouge, La., was on hand once again with a great selection of items, including a large representation of Sister Gertrude Morgan works that ranged from paintings to a colorful quilt depicting scenes of Melrose Plantation, where she spent her life. The gallery also offered the paintings of William Hemmerling, who depicts Southern African American folk culture and the various themes of New Orleans such as the work titled “Jazz Musicians” or “Down By The River,” which had sold shortly after the show opened.
Gilley’s stand was also filled with the art of David Butler, a self-taught sculptor who works in found sheet metal to create a diverse assortment of figures, such as “Mermaid,” a crude cutout tin figure with traces of paint that was priced at $3,000.
Drawing on the collages of Romare Beardon, St Louis artist Craig Norton was represented at the show by Galerie Bonheur, St Louis, Mo. An interesting assortment of work by the artist portrayed mostly African Americans in politically charged scenes that reflected disparity and injustice. Constructed figures, whose bodies were made from wallpaper swatches and their paper faces intricately drawn with an ball point pen, were placed thematically on top of well executed large-scale oil paintings. Titles such as “Early American Propaganda,” $5,500, which depicted a stream of blue collar black workers on foot, had been juxtaposed against the 50s style smiling faces of the ideal Anglo American citizens, to “Sudan Darfur” that depicted gun toting and screaming people in a chaotic scene, $6,000.
Galerie der Künstler aus Gugging, Gugging, Austria, was on hand at the fair for the first time and its offerings included a selection of works from Austrian artists who have lived and worked at Gugging, the “House of Artists.” One of the emphasis of the Gugging is to demonstrate that people with psychiatric disabilities are capable of making profound contributions to society though their artwork.
From Cologne, Germany, was Galerie Susanne Zander, who also offered a selection of art created by institutionalized artists. Many of the pieces had been collected by Dr Paul Goesch between 1919 and 1920 as he studied the art of his patients, some of whom also have their works included in the Prinzhorn Collection.
For further information regarding the Martin Ramirez exhibition, contact The American Folk Art Museum, 212-265-1040 or www.folkartmuseum.org. For further information regarding the Outsider Art Fair contact Sanford Smith and Associates, 212-777-5218 or www.sanfordsmith.com.
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