Outsider Art Fair, New York – January 19-22, 2017
A week ago, between the jet lag and long coffee, I went to the Outsider Art Fair which turns 25 this year, like me. Founded by Sanford L. Smith, to its beginnings it counted 25 exhibitors. Now there were 66 galleries from 9 countries.
Unlike the beginning, now the Outsider Art Fair has conformed to the standards of a contemporary art exhibition: as pointed out by Andrew Edlin in an interview for The Art Newspaper, the interest in Outsider Art has increased exponentially thanks to the major exhibitions of self-taught artists at famous institutions like The Metropolitan Museum and the Venice Biennale, that made this works more “familiar” and made them more attractive to the collectors’ circle.
The fair took place in a very special moment for America. The Donald Trump installation took place on January 20th, second day of the fair; the day after a myriad of pink sweatshirts marched through the streets of many cities to protest against the new president.
The fair has supported the protest with “The Barack Obama Readings”, a collective reading of the most iconic speeches of the outgoing president. It may seems a “courageous” act because the Outsider Art Fair is an artistic event that celebrates self-taught artists who are frequently “removed” from traditional places of everyday life and politics.
The works of outsiders are often characterized by the absence of a direct link with the outside world, including cultural and political trends. Their works are deeper, which aims to portray other worlds and highly personal visions. However, this way of thinking outsider art hasn’t revealed more limiting as this year, where also the handmade quilts of Gee’s Bend participated at the fair. The authors were descendants of slaves who had worked in the cotton fields for generations. The history of these rugs has become intertwined with the battles for civil rights since the 20th century. Racial discrimination towards these figures and their estrangement from the rest of the population have emphasized a strong bond with the society, as made it evident in the artists of some American studios. Many of them have dealt with political issues by portraying iconic figures of our time. Daniel Green, Creativity Explored artist, has portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. alongside John F. Kennedy and Roy Wilkins. The background is full of texts that destroy any temporal and thematic link, like the words “Hot & Cold Sandwiches” near “Abraham Lincoln”.
The works of Michael Pellew Jr. and Carlo Daleo, two of the young artists exhibited by LAND Gallery, stand out for their portraits, figures too familiar to us, that blend with each other in a harmony of extremely nice colors: from Michelle Obama to Alice Cooper, from Prince to Lady Gaga.
This year’s fair has shown that the concept of “outsider” has expanded and has included voices that are often ignored. Many works on display show that for many “outsiders” the politics and the social exclusion is a fact rather than a choice.
Then, on one hand the latest discoveries have opened our eyes to new horizons, on the other hand there were the great classics, that were also implemented by a beautiful exhibition curated by Edward M. Gomez. It was dedicated to the celebration of the “25 years” and it retraced the years through one work per edition: four watercolors of Thornton Dial were significant because of their presence at the first edition.
Friedrich Schröder-Sonnestern, the unwritting author of the exhibition logos, Howard Finster, William Edmondson, Eugene Von Bruenchenein and many other “historical” outsider appeared in the stands lit by their beauty. The carved ostrich eggs of Gil Batle, already exposed in Paris 2016 edition by Ricco/Maresca have also amazed here the audience through the representation of the prison scenes experienced by the artist herself.
Because of my origins, I want to specify that even this year my country had its representatives: Rizomi Art Brut (Parma), the oldest art brut gallery in Italy has joined the forces with the Milan based Maroncelli 12 in a “Solo Exhibition” of Carlo Zinelli, one of the most important Italian outsider. There will be another and more complete solo exhibition at the Folk Art Museum, New York in March 2017.
The interest of the New Yorkers has been high, at least culturally, not economically (there were a lot of reasons of the failure of many booths, undoubtedly the election of Trump, women’s march and Christie’s auction had played havoc on many galleries). Next to the usual audience of collectors and enthusiasts, were many young people who have decided to spend an afternoon from one stand to another to write down a name or take a picture.
I almost forgot that saturday afternoon the fair was full of pink shirts.