In Part I of this panel discussion on the rise of Outsider Art held at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Andrew Edlin, CEO of the Outsider Art Fair, provides historical context, after which Edward Gómez, senior editor of Raw Vision, will present on the meaning and taxonomy of the genre. Part II will feature Scott Ogden, principal at Shrine Gallery, and Outsider Artist, Daniel Swanigan Snow.
Okay, I’m going to give you a little travelogue in sort of the Hunter S. Thompson mode. Heading down to Washington D.C. on the Acela, I can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance as the train cuts through the industrial wastelands of New Jersey’s Meadowlands. I’m finally on my way to see the much ballyhooed exhibition, “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” at the National Gallery, the most recent in a succession of periodic shows where major institutions feature the art of the self-taught, those whose visions weren’t shaped by academia or the machinery of the art world superstructure. I had read several reviews and had leafed through the thick exhibition catalogue. Naturally, I was immediately struck by the term, outliers. Which is obviously a deliberate attempt to avoid the more commonly used term outsider. The distinction couldn’t help but remind me of the hilarious Mel Brook’s film Young Frankenstein. The clip of which i hope you’ll enjoy.
Igor: Dr. Frankenstein…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: You’re putting me on.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, it’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”
Igor: Do you also say “Froaderick”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No… “Frederick.”
Igor: Well, why isn’t it “Froaderick Fronkensteen”?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: It isn’t; it’s “Frederick Fronkensteen.”
Igor: I see.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: You must be Igor.
[He pronounces it ee-gor]
Igor: No, it’s pronounced “eye-gor.”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: But they told me it was “ee-gor.”
Igor: Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?
For the last 20 years or so I’ve been making my way through the art world as the owner of a gallery in Manhattan and more recently an art fair. Both of which specialize in outsider art. Addressing you tonight has proven a good opportunity for a little reflection, both on this field and my place in it. In the words of the great David Byrne, well, how did I get here? By the mid 1990’s I’d pretty much taken over the reins of my father’s food business, brokering groceries staples like peanut butter and mayonnaise. Selling them by the truckload to big supermarket chains, while still managing to moonlight as a rock musician. It had been a very lucrative business for decades, not the rock musician part. My late uncle Paul was an artist who made collages out of tiny slivers of postage stamps. He worked in isolation, partly because he had been born almost completely deaf. Very few knew his work. Perhaps he’d been included in a few group shows, but certainly never sold a thing. After I showed his work to some dealers, he was niched as an outsider artist, and in fairly short order at the age of 66 achieved some commercial and critical success before he passed away in 2008. He was elated by the level of attention he received, but continued to live a quiet dignified life devoted to his art.
Being a conduit for Uncle Paul was my first step. His work genuinely moved me. I found it elegant and mysterious, sophisticated, but at the same time, tapping into something primordial. I remember that during one of the early exhibitions of his work at my new gallery a visitor came in from a small country in Eastern Europe. What he said about the show stayed with me. Something to the effect that anyone from anywhere in the world could relate to Uncle Paul’s work, that there was a way in. This struck me as almost the highest kind of praise imaginable. To me the best art was almost always the most universal, where I was able to find common ground with the artist through our shared humanity. I’d been developing my aesthetic values steadily since I was a kid, but through the medium of rock music not visual art. In 1969, as a third grader I performed Let it Be and Proud Mary in front of the school. I was transported by the lyrics and the story these songs related, even if I didn’t fully understand them. I had a hippy music teacher from The Village who explained to me that the songs in my Tommy Songbook were all connected as part of one story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy. This was amazing. When I got older, Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks took me on a journey that to this day feels like one of the most visionary American adventures ever.
What I saw at my first Outsider Art Fair in 1995 gave me a similar feeling. Seeing James Castle drawings being pulled out of a cardboard folder for the first time, these huge double-sided Henry Darger scrolls, Ramirez, Wölfli, these worlds that these artists invented sucked me right in. Almost the ways Tangled up in Blue did. In an effort to further my art education, I’d been trying to visit as many galleries and museums as possible. But I wasn’t initiated into the world of contemporary art, and none of the people working at the galleries took much interest in helping me understand what an artist was trying to communicate through an installation or with an abstract painting. I was educated enough, had a college degree in English literature but still I had little inkling about much of what I was seeing. By contrast the dealers at the Outsider Art Fair were happy to tell me the incredible story of these artists which furthered my appreciation for the work.
As I began to get hooked on outsider art, I also noticed the level of attention it was receiving in the artworld was microscopic. As a nascent dealer I was energized to spread the word. After being open for about 4 years I was incredibly fortunate to land an exclusive representing the Henry Darger estate. Darger was already a legend, but had only penetrated the consciousness of the artworld to a modest degree. Now that I was in charge that was of course gonna all change. I can recall meticulously filling out the application for Art Basel, proposing a solo booth of Darger masterpieces. The star curator at MOMA, Klaus Biesenback had just written the essay for the new Darger monograph, so even politically all the stars were aligned, for the most renowned aficionados of art to finally see and hopefully buy these great works. My application was rejected outright. How could this be? Well, it be. And it was on me to figure out what the obstacles were and how I could get around them. What I needed to do according to those in the know, was to demonstrate the relevance of outsider art to contemporary art.
I began to stage hybrid shows at my gallery, inviting thoughtful and youngish Brooklyn artists to curate. The results were tremendous. I drew crowds, and the press responded enthusiastically with glowing reviews. Truthfully, some of the work brought in wasn’t exactly up my alley, but I saw the importance of working outside my comfort zone and I learned a lot about the contemporary art world, a culture that I’ve come to respect and one I absolutely needed to win over to be successful. I suppose for critics and curators there’s often an inclination to compare self-taught artists with their trained counterparts after all they are in search of something interesting to write or talk about and it is interesting. But how relevant is it? Many times have I seen artworlders who wear their encyclopedic knowledge like a badge pinned to their chests opine about some self-taught artist’s work they’ve seen. To use a musical analogy, it can sound like an expert on Rachmaninoff being assigned to review a John Lee Hooker album. Tonight we’re lucky to have one of our generation’s greatest art journalistic luminaries with us, Edward Gomez, who has mastered the ability to speak about all the technical and formal aspects of self-taught art, without overlooking its essence, spirit or meaning.
Another well-known voice in the art world belongs to Jerry Saltz. In 2016 he wrote this in his review of the Keeper Exhibition at the New Museum. “These days our definition of art is mainly art informed by other art and art history. Especially in the last 2 centuries and tenaciously of late. Art is examined in its own essences, ordinances, techniques, tools, materials, presentational modes and forms. To be thought of as an artist someone must self-identify as one and make what they think of as art. This center cannot hold. Why? It’s far too tight to let real art breathe. It’s beyond time for a new generation of art historians, not only to open up the system and let art be the garden that it is; home to exotic blooms of known and unknown phenomena. It’s time to work against this system. The idea that art has an overall goal of advancing or perfecting its terms and techniques is made up, imagined, idiotic, except for those benefiting from this intellectual fundamentalism. Someday people will look back at this phase of art history the way we look back at Manifest Destiny and colonialism.”
I’m rereading this review just as the train pulls into Union Station. I’m looking forward to this show. The edifice of the National Gallery looks majestic as I get out of the taxi and the giant banner advertising outliers is twice the height of the facade of our beloved Folk Art Museum. Walking through the atrium with the sunlight streaming through I get an uplifting feeling of optimism about the show. And there’s also some pride that the art I’ve been championing is continuing to make headway. And then I head down a wide flight of stairs and then another set, and I realize that the show’s underground in the basement of the National Gallery. The first room offers two walls with an installation of sculpture in the center of the floor, all by female artists. One wall holds a large quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins. Diagonally across a wall-hung piece by the contemporary artist, Jessica Stockholder. On the platform are 5 sculptures. Three by Judith Scott and two by Nancy Shaver. The difference between the works by the outsiders and insiders seems plain enough: Judith Scott wrapping her objects with virtually no art historical awareness and it wonderfully shows. The Shaver sculptures seem more deliberate with careful thought and strategy devoted to the placement of her objects. For me, the same is true of Stockholder’s work. Her assemblage reminds me of the kid’s game Mousetrap with all kinds of disparate materials connected together. It’s the art of the self-conscious next to the art of the unselfconscious, which to me pretty much summarizes the show.
Pairing Henry Darger with Matt Millikin or Cindy Sherman with Lee Godie and Eugene Von Bruenchenhiem. Now this is not to disparage these artists. Seeing and understanding an artist’s complex strategy and composition choices can be hugely exciting. But why are these works in a room and a show together? Lynne Cooke the esteemed curator, has already done important work with artists like James Castle and Martin Ramirez, and she’s clearly demonstrating an affinity between the artworks of the trained and untrained. And pointing out in many cases the schooled artists were influenced by the self-taught ones. This is certainly compelling if not altogether new observation. But there’s also an implication of a dialogue among these artists which cannot be true. Because any influence can only flow one way in this scenario. Did Judith Scott have exchanges with other professional artists, critics and professors. Did she read up on art history or read the reviews of her exhibitions. So while the works of outsiders are granted equal stature in Outliers, it still appears that outsider art is being seen and used as a comparative tool for defining the work by artists who are aware of the canon.
Cooke endorses the notion that the field of outsider art should dissolve into the mainstream, becoming just another dimension of modern art history and she’s not alone. But one of the footnotes Doctor Cooke’s essay does state is troubling to me. It reads, “the focus of the current project necessarily leaves aside reference to the activity of these specialized institutions above all the American Folk Art Museum founded in 1961 and of department devoted to folk and outsider art in museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the High Museum of Art”. So with that explanation, Cooke is dismissing out of hand decades of research and scholarship by experts at museums wholly dedicated to these artists. In fact, the first phase of Outliers treads on very similar ground as Stacy Hollander’s 2015 exhibition, Folk Art and American Modernism. at the Folk Art Museum with many of the same artists being represented. Is it possible for institutions to embrace the field of self-taught and outsider art without cannibalizing it?
There hasn’t been much pushback either against those who contend that there’s little or no distinction between the fields of outsider and contemporary art. It’s almost a reflex for those of us in the business of outsider art to cite each instance when big movers and shakers in the art world bless the work we handle every day. We bask in their approval and hope that their accolades will morph into something that might even trickle into our bank accounts someday. From the Venice Beinnale to the Metropolitan Museum we feel validated when our underdog community is acknowledged for its outsized cultural influence, less we forget that virtually none of the artists like Darger, Ramirez or Dyal – they didn’t give a damn what the artworld thought about them. In most cases, they didn’t even know what the art world was. So, when we define outsider art or assess its worth only through its relationship with mainstream art, we’re not serving it well or doing it justice. In the current exhibition at the Folk Art Museum: Vestiges in Verse, Notes from the New Fangled Epic, Henry Darger’s original 14 volumes, 15,000+ pages are on display, Illustrating his depth of his commitment, his total immersino in his art. In fact, I would even say, you can’t fully appreciate Darger without seeing these books. To experience the Dellshau, the 46 foot long scroll of Aloise Corbaz and incredible story boards of Adolph lfl, is to witness art that is timeless.
Artists like Darger and Wölfli need to be looked at more like the Homers and Miltons of our time and less as reference points for other artists, critics and media figures. Maybe what I love most of outsider art, is this close connection to the great human tradition of storytelling. Reading or hearing a great story can move us transform us, change how we think. The stories my dad told me about his childhood affected my profoundly. He was a classic joke teller. One of my favorites was where the Baron Von Rothschild the famous British financier is picked up at Victoria Station by his horse and carriage and driving him out to his countryside estate. He hands the driver a one pound note who says “thank you but even your son gives me two pounds”. He goes “sure, he has a rich father”. The young- it’s a funny joke, but it’s also true about the nature of entitlement. The young Rothschild is cavalier with his money precisely because he didn’t earn it himself.
Having expertise in one domain doesn’t make that knowledge instantly transferable, so can be with those making pronouncements in generalizations about outsider art. Even though they might not have looked at or studied the work on its own terms away from the lens of professionalized art. In closing I want to thank Richard Lehun, Stropheus and Sotheby’s for inviting me here tonight. As we ponder these issues we can’t help but acknowledge that these are indeed exciting times for our field, and it’s a good thing that so many new eyes will fall on this work in large scale museums like the National Gallery. We owe a debt of gratitude to curators like Lynne Cooke, Massimiliano Gioni and Matthew Higgs, who have helped with their distinct curatorial positions to expand the audience and appreciation for outsider and self-taught art over the years. But let’s also not forget the legions of art dealers, collectors, museum directors, writers and curators who have already been beating the drum for self-taught artists for generations. Outsider art is indeed art with a capital A, but it’s also kind of its own thing. If you’ve ever been to the Outsider Art Fair, then you know what I’m talking about. And if I might suggest, the next time you’re about to check the temperature on your iPhone open the door instead and step outside. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Very briefly I want to give you the sense of the collective history and implicitly a sense of the broader global view of activity in the related overlapping fields of Art Brut, Outsider Art and so-called Self-Taught Art. And I’m sharing this group of observations obviously from my vantage point as a researcher, critic, reporter, and educator who has been deeply involved with these related fields for many, many years.
First, I’d like to talk to you about the terminology. Art Brut, Outsider Art, Self-Taught art, Visionary Art, Intuitive Art, Naïf Art. Various labels have been kicked around for many decades to describe and identify the kind of artworks that we’re discussing tonight. No one label sits comfortably and accurately and completely identifies the kind of artwork we’re talking about. So, as a result, collectively we tend to refer to all of these nuanced forms as Outsider Art, hence the name of the fair: The Outsider Art Fair. There are nitpickers but let them pick.
Naïf Art, however, is one term that bit the dust some time ago. And we can thank our confrères and consœurs in the postmodernist critical camp for helping us dispense with that one. The assumption coming from postmodernist critical thinking is: Naïf? Naïf to whom? Who’re you calling naïf?
We speak about the field, those of us who are researchers, art dealers, collectors, promoters in it. And it’s just a handy nickname – shorthand – for this material we’re investigating and celebrating. This field emerges out of, is related to, what is not necessarily dependent on the development of the field of psychiatry, especially as this medical field was evolving in Europe during the late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century. By the early decades of the 1900s, doctors at some psychiatric hospitals in Europe at what used to be called mental asylums, another term which is poo-pooed, were paying attention to what could be described as artistic creations made by certain resident patients in their institutions. These creations might have been drawings or handcrafted objects made with found materials. Nowadays, many psychiatric hospitals have so-called in-house art therapy or occupational therapy programs for their patients. And in many of their institutions, participation of those patients in such programs is regarded as not merely a way of filling up their time, but rather as a worthwhile activity that may actually contribute to the healing process.
Often patients in such institutions were diagnosed with psychosis, especially schizophrenia. But keep in mind that psychiatrists a century ago did not have the more nuanced understanding of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis, that their successors in the 20th century and today possessed and possess, and by which they guided in making their diagnoses and treatment programs. Also, keep in mind, a century ago, there were no drugs of the kind we have today for mental patients.
Some of the most important people associated with psychiatric hospitals in Western Europe in the early 20th century who were paying attention to the creations of these resident patients were people like, Doctor Hans Prinzhorn at the University of Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, who in the early 1920s was collecting work. Doctor Walter Morgenthaler near Bern, Switzerland, who was the physician overseeing the artist Adolph Wölfli and recognized his artistic genius and in the early 1920s, published a book about Wölfli called Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler in which he recognizes this mentally ill patient as an artist. So, this was somewhat radical, this kind of thinking about what these people were making.
Fast forward to the 1940s, the modern artist, Jean Dubuffet and a group of his pals, like the surrealist leader André Breton, became very interested in the work of not only mentally ill persons, but people working, making art in prisons, distinctive carvers, self-taught painters who were not working in traditional folk art styles, and other unschooled makers of what they considered rather unusual, exceptional works of art. Common to what these people were making was the fact that they had not studied art making or art history in schools. They usually found themselves on the margins of mainstream culture and society, either by choice or by the force of circumstances, often using found materials.
Dubuffet and his colleagues recognized that such self-taught artist creations could be regarded as works of art, and this is very interesting, because in doing so they were implicitly beginning to evaluate these creations with aesthetic criteria in mind. And very important was that they recognized that the kinds of so-called artworks that these people were creating were unique in themselves. This became a very important criterion for Dubuffet’s in recognizing and identifying, and ultimately labeling, a work as Art Brut, which in French literally means Raw Art. There are some historians who also think he was pulling our legs. Why? Because Dubuffet came from a family that sold wine on the Atlantic coast of France. And as you know, there is a champagne that is brut. And so, some people think he was playing around with this. These works also, Dubuffet pointed out, all convey and represent a deeply unique personal vision on the part of their creators. That vision might be artistic, spiritual, political, social, historical or a combination thereof. Wölfli’s work is a very good example. He was in the very early publications of Dubuffet’s association, which he had established in France with some fellow critics and writers and artists in the 1940s.
Fast forward to the 1970s, early 1970s, there was a historical, for us in our field rather, historical exhibition in England, put together by Roger Cardinal, the book that accompanied it was called Outsider Art. Professor Cardinal’s publishers said “Roger, that will never do. Art Brut will never be understood by the British visitor to the museum, and nor will make sense in a bookstore, so we have to fish around for something else.” And they came up with Outsider Art to sum up and reflect Dubuffet’s description of art of this unusual kind. And the term stuck. However, it also suggested a more expansive meaning, and helped shift the tension in this field to the status of creators as so-called outsiders.
Dubuffet had referred to these art makers in French also as Créateur or Auteur. If Dubuffet had highlighted both the conditions of the art maker’s life in society and the character of his or her creations, Roger Cardinal’s new label helped steer attention more to the unschooled art makers’ situation outside mainstream society, but not necessary completely removed from mainstream culture. You’d have to be brought up as an enfant sauvage, out in the forest with no contact with a radio or television or newspaper, to be completely removed from culture.
So, the term self-taught art is something much more recent. In recent decades, especially in the United States, this term has come into use in the art market and the media to refer in an even broader way to the creations of Art Brut and outsider artists. But as you can see, this term explicitly cast the net very wide. As a result, many creations by persons who can be called or do call themselves self-taught have emerged in the art market. But can or should all such works properly be labeled Outsider Art or Art Brut as well? Technically, all works of Art Brut can be properly placed in the broad field of Outsider Art. But can all Outsider Art be considered to be works of Art Brut? Conversely, from the even broader vantage point of so-called Self-Taught Art, and note that it’s not the art that’s self-taught, it’s the maker who is self-taught, so these terms are sometimes rather dubious. All Art Brut or Outsider Artworks are by definition produced by self-taught artists, but not all specimens of Self-Taught art can be properly be classified as works of Art Brut or Outsider Art. Are your heads spinning? I’m not quibbling about the co-existence or the respected specificity of each of these terms. There was a woman involved in this about 30 years ago who once said, “we’ve got to stop the term warfare.” But in my opinion, the time for arguing about which one label to use to universally categorically identify or refer to all of these different but often related kinds of artworks that can or are designated by these different terms, that’s over. As I said, collectively, the umbrella term we can appropriately use is Outsider Art.
That is not to say that these terms can or should be used synonymously or interchangeably. They should not. Each one has a specific and nuanced meaning. They can and should all be used in an informed manner, especially by art dealers, teachers, curators and the media, all of whom perform roles as educators about this kind of art whenever they examine or present it. In practice, as I said, Outsider Art has become the common label.
Now this is something that’s interesting. I want to just tell you two critical vibes that are emerging. One is that of the rejection of the term “outsider.” The rejection of the term “outsider” by those who believe that this sounds pejorative and assumes that whoever or whatever is being placed outside is being categorized or placed there by those on the so-called privileged “inside.” This point of view comes straight out of doctrinaire post-modern critical theories’ textbooks. Normally, the “inside” would seem to refer to various places of positions within the so-called mainstream art establishment and its supporting institutions and infrastructure, such as the specialized art media or the mass media. Some people question if these outsiders are really “outside.” At the same time, we are seeing the embrace of the label “outsider,” by art makers and others, some musicians who might not be self-taught at all, who might be quite well-schooled and aware of art history and the art mainstream, and even tapped into it, but for whom “outsider.” with a nod to cultural politics, has become a declaration of a kind of social, cultural, political position or even of a stylistic fashionable pose. Les Poseurs.
Dilemma: if anyone can be a self-declared “outsider,” then who or what is a genuine “outsider”? Now, I’m going to leave you with a few critical issues, that are also on the radar screen. Andrew [Edlin] hinted at this. I’m just going to let out the full arsenal. Let’s put to rest right now the notion that however, whenever, or wherever it may be implicitly or explicitly expressed, that Outsider Art can or must be, or somehow is, legitimized, or validated, if or when it is presented alongside art made by academically trained so-called professional artists who are knowledgeable of mainstream art history, and make their works in dialogue with it. That is, art products made primarily for sale in the mainstream art market and presented in mainstream art establishment institutions. To assume, never mind state, that outsider art is somehow validated or legitimized by its real or imagined proximity to mainstream art product, or its supported institution is to misunderstand the essential nature of this art.
Just lowered the boom. Now I’m going to zip ahead to Judith Scott, whom Scott Ogden just mentioned. This kind of art by definition is unique unto itself. Certainly, as any other art form, it can be compared to and contrasted with countless other art forms examined and appreciated vis-à-vis a myriad of concerns and characteristics. But it does not need to be validated by anything other than itself. That’s the main point I want to make. And that is coming from Dubuffet’s theory about its uniqueness. Like the best forms of artistic expression of any kind, in any discipline, outsider art embodies and communicates its own inherent truths. And it is our jobs as observers, as art appreciators, as critics certainly, to find those truths and articulate them.
Now, having said all that, at the end of 2013, a New York Times report on the year’s events and trends in the international art world, of which the art market is a large part, stated breathlessly, “this was the year that outsider art came in from the cold.” Now I ask, as an informed observer, and I saw the exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale, exactly what did that remark, which was packed with assumptions mean? From exactly which supposedly cold precincts did outsider art finally emerge? Cold in relation to what? What might have been the hot?
The Times offered as a rationale for its assertion that outsider art had been featured “most prominently in the centerpiece exhibition of the Venice Biennale.” That big exhibition was called The Encyclopedic Palace. It was organized by Massimiliano Gioni, a curator here in New York. That exhibition took its name from that of a sculpture by an Italian-American self-taught artist Marino Auriti who in the 1950s imagined a museum which he called Enciclopedico Palazzo del Mondo, which was to house all the knowledge in the world. His sculpture was a model of his proposed museum building. And that lovely sculpture is housed at the American Folk Art Museum here in New York.
That exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale placed outsider art alongside the creations of academically trained artists, including some big-name stars in the mainstream such as Bruce Nauman, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, and others. In fact, by the time the time the New York Times article was published in December 2013, the market for the works and the market for the best self-taught artists, which had been around for several decades, had long been quite high. Such works had been increasingly visible in the mainstream media. They had become more and more popular among general interest audiences.
Just look at the attendance figures of the annual Outsider Art Fair. Kudos, Andrew! They had become ever costlier in gallery art fair and auction sales. Around the time of the  Venice Biennale, a British writer [Sam Thorne] wrote an article about it and quoted Gioni who said that “he hope[d] that his exhibition will ‘blur the line’ between the insider and the outside.” Here we go again with this hackneyed, cliché, binary thinking. However, the writer of this article in Frieze magazine went on to write, referring to works of art by self-taught outsider artists, “[D]oes the inclusion of such works really question the mainstream, as Gioni has suggested, or is it just further proof that – in order to maintain its primacy – the mainstream always needs to designate exceptions?”
Okay, I’ll leave you with these two points. A few months later, around the time of the Outsider Art Fair 2014 in New York, a few months after the Venice Biennale closed, my colleague at Raw Vision Magazine, John Maizels, its founder, spoke with me about this trend of bringing together works of academically trained artists and those of remarkable autodidacts. Maizels noted, “it is definitely happening. Is it because the contemporary art world has open up to the fact that outsider art is quite popular now, or is it because outsider art prices have risen and therefore this kind of work seems more worthwhile to people in the market that is?” I think it’s a bit of both. So, if that’s the case, here are questions for the jury to consider. Is it worthwhile, desirable, or necessary to “blur the line,” as Gioni said in his 2013 interview, between artistic creations that are identified as those of outsider artists and those who are made by academically trained so called professional artists? Or not? Or is it possible and could it be more satisfying or perhaps illuminating to allow works of art that are classified and labeled one way and those that are classified and labeled another way to co-exist; to appreciate them for their respective, and yes sometimes shared or common characteristics or affinities, without wanting needing or expecting one kind of art to somehow validate or legitimize another, or to be regarded as possessing some kind of greater aesthetic historical or other value than another? In his article in Frieze magazine, the British writer Sam Thorne, who happens to be a museum director in England at the Nottingham Contemporary, also cited the curator Lynne Cooke, whom Andrew mentioned today, a curator who has long worked in this field, is now on staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Thorne quotes Lynne Cook, who observed that “outsider art has come to be viewed as a parallel field, separate but equal to contemporary art.” He noted that Cooke had pointed out that “parallel lines can never converge.”
Now, I can leave you there. But I just want to show you one slide that’s very important. Art Brut and Outsider Art’s historical root territories are Europe and the Americas. Traditionally, these related fields have been driven by the activities of self-motivated researchers and collectors whose research pursuits and collecting have gone hand in hand. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is a field that grew out of the activities of researcher collectors, and to this day is still dependent on some of the energy and passion of collectors who are very good researchers, and the best dealers also function, particularly in this field, not just as promoters, sellers, but as researcher educators. This is very unique to this field, somewhat in the way that any specialized field of antiques or decorative objects might appear to you. I can tell you from my vantage point, as a curator working at the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, which Dubuffet founded 40 years ago, that indeed specialized institutions of this kind, which there are very few of, and the marketplace in general (Scott Ogden alluded to this), are all hungry for discoveries, and so the researchers in this field are branching out beyond the familiar territories of Western Europe and the Americas, and we are now seeing exciting finds coming from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, so that’s where the research stands.