Tag Archives: NEW YORK TIMES

New York Times Review

Opening the Folkways of Perception:

Outsider Art’s Wide World of Inclusion


I once asked an art dealer how he determined whether someone was an outsider artist, and he offered this criterion: anyone who called up and said he or she was an outsider artist was immediately disqualified. In his view, outsider artists don’t self-identify and they don’t operate telephones.

Standing inside the 19th annual Outsider Art Fair at 7 West 34th Street in Manhattan on Thursday evening, Colin Rhodes, an Australian art historian who’s written a book on the subject, disagreed. “Pathology is not the defining criterion,” he said. For him, an outsider artist is not an amateur, just someone working outside the regular art world structures.

In any case, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and the self-taught generally rule the field — the dearth of art by prisoners at these fairs is a continual surprise; they’re an extremely creative, productive and expanding population — and their stories haunt wall labels throughout the 33 exhibitors’ booths. But this is a strong fair whose work begs to be considered along other lines.

There are, for instance, pieces characterized by striking or unusual materials, like Jim Work’s drawings of farms and rural roads done in crayon on opened-up paper grocery bags, at the Pardee Collection; or George Paterson’s carved skateboards, which look like tribal objects, at Cavin-Morris. David Butler’s cut-and-pounded-tin birds and creatures, on view at Gilley’s Gallery and Ricco/Maresca, were made to decorate his yard in New Orleans or hang in his windows, casting distinctive shadows into the interior of his home.

Outsider art also accommodates the late bloomer. Aaron Birnbaum, a retired New York tailor, started painting at 65. His lovely “Two Peacocks in Tree” from 1985 at Maxwell Projects is framed by painted pieces of a wooden crib found in the street. Giorgos Rigas began painting scenes of the Greek countryside from memory at 56. His Grandma Moses-like canvases are hung salon-style at C. Grimaldis.

Religious visionaries are a perennial presence. Nikifor at Wasserwerk Galerie Lange created small, beautifully colored images, including a self-portrait as a Greek Orthodox bishop. The legendary Howard Finster offers an urgent pronouncement at Ames Gallery — “Warning! Take Heed or Fail!” — from 1984.

And pathology can’t always be ruled out. Some of the best works in the show were made by artists afflicted with something — although institutional records often prohibit us from knowing what. William Rice Rode, a patient in an Illinois mental hospital around the turn of the last century, made extraordinary drawings of flying machines, people and text written in a self-invented language, on bed sheets; examples are on view at the Carl Hammer Gallery.

At Ricco/Maresca, George Widener’s large ink-on-paper drawing “Untitled (4421)” from 2010 doubles as a “robot teaching game” for future generations of intelligent machines. The systematic structure, numbering and pattern are credited by his dealer largely to Mr. Widener’s being an autistic savant.

Some of the most widely admired work here is by the Electric Pencil, an anonymous patient at State Lunatic Asylum No. 3 in Nevada, Mo., whose drawings from the early 20th century were discovered in a trash can in 1970. Assembled and displayed by the New York artist Harris Diamant — who also provided the “electric” moniker — the Pencil’s drawings of animals and specter-eyed figures often appear on hospital stationery.

Established masters hang alongside newer discoveries. The old guard includes Bill Traylor, Martin Ramirez, Henry Darger, Mr. Butler, Sam Doyle, Mr. Finster, James Castle and Adolf Wolfli. Mr. Rode and the Electric Pencil are among the new.

And then there is the catchall category of general weirdness: illustrations made to accompany Dr. Carrie F. Young’s 1875 lectures on the effects of alcohol on the human stomach at Ames; Haitian voodoo objects at Bourbon-Lally, made to please spirits or protect households; the virtuoso ink drawings of Leonard L. St. Clair (a k a Stoney), a dwarf tattoo artist who lived in Columbus, Ohio, at Maxwell Projects.

Written next to the images in Mr. St. Clair’s drawings — which were made as tattoo samples — are numbers designating prices for the real things. He might be surprised to learn, 31 years after his death, that the drawings themselves have acquired financial value as art objects.

Perhaps more than any other factor, this is what binds together the work in the Outsider Art Fair: Much of it wasn’t created to sell, or to achieve, acclaim, but for other purposes — often merely to satisfy a raw creative impulse. For those of us caught up in the art world, it offers a corrective, or at least a temporary window into another world.


The Outsider Art Fair continues through Sunday at 7 West 34th Street, Manhattan;




Modernism + Art20 Celebrating 25 Years

Check out our Review in the NYTimes!

Jewelry and Tableaus in the Same Tent


For the second year in a row the dependable design fair Modernism has teamed up with the younger Art20, giving visitors to the Park Avenue Armory a concentrated look at 20th-century art and design. The marriage of these two fairs has allowed both to ride out a difficult economy. It has also nudged painting and sculpture into close contact with furnishings, jewelry and decorative objects, producing a kind of friction that rarely occurs in museums.

Because Modernism is the more established of the two fairs (with 25 years under its belt, to 9 for Art20), the design tends to dominate. This is generally not the place to go shopping for big-ticket 20th-century art, although the also-rans have plenty of personality.

Major design pieces look even better when the exhibitors go to great lengths to create context for them. At Martin Cohen a Louis Comfort Tiffany settee upholstered in olive-green velvet, with a Moorish-influenced inlay of mother-of-pearl hexagons, is being shown alongside 17th-century carved wood panels from Damascus. Also on view is a picture of the settee in its original location, the fabulously ornate George Kemp House.

More Tiffany can be found at Lillian Nassau: lamps, glass and a striking vanity mirror in the form of an oval framed by winding lily-pad stems. Just as compelling, though harder to imagine living with, is another Art Nouveau object: a cabinet by the sculptor and furniture maker Carlo Bugatti (father of the automaker Ettore Bugatti) at James P. Infante. It combines inlaid pewter, ivory, suede and bronze, and it makes use of several wildlife motifs, among them dragonflies and flocks of birds.

Earthier and more streamlined, George Nakashima’s natural-edged wood furniture goes with everything and is seemingly everywhere (at Moderne, Geoffrey Diner and B & G, to name a few booths). And if you’re after Scandinavian modern, Jacksons, based in Stockholm, has plenty of it, including a sinuous cream-colored canapé by Kerstin Horlin-Holmquist for NK.

Among the art dealers McCormick’s booth intrigues with lesser-known abstract-expressionists like Milton Resnick and Mary Abbott (a descendant of John Adams who fell in with the 10th Street crew and was romantically linked to de Kooning). The Resnick is tightly worked, the Abbott loose and rangy; both are excellent footnotes to the Museum of Modern Art’s current celebration of the movement.

Babcock has a bold, two-tiered abstract composition by Will Barnet, currently the subject of a centennial exhibition at the Art Students League. It has a perplexing date of 1961-83; apparently Mr. Barnet painted most of it in the ’60s and later retouched it. At the same booth is a Cubist-inspired still life by Edgar Levy (an associate of John Graham and Dorothy Dehner) from 1939. Neither work quite fits into the neat categories of art history, but both look great here.

There’s a good deal of social history in a drawing by Alice Neel, at Levis Fine Art. It’s a kind of courtroom sketch, in pen and ink, of the 1949 trial of 11 American Communist leaders. Ms. Neel attended the trial, at the Foley Square courthouse, and her distinctly unflattering depictions of the Judge Harold Medina and the witness Angela Calomiris evince her sympathy for the defendants.

Another item of local interest can be found amid the mid-century Modern furniture at Lost City Arts: a set of two handwritten progress reports from offices of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, describing the construction of the Empire State Building. The first of them lists the skyscraper by its provisional title, “Waldorf Astoria Office Building.”

JMW Gallery in Boston, meanwhile, devotes the back wall of its booth to squares of wood-block-printed fabric from the Depression era. The dealers believe that they were made by a woman affiliated with the W.P.A. Milwaukee handicraft project.

Just as intricate and pattern-rich are the European drawings, prints and illustrated books at the booth of Leonard Fox; look out for Gerda Wegener’s Art Deco femmes fatales.

The fair’s sole vintage-clothing dealer, Katy Kane, has mounted an eye-catching display of haute-couture Courreges: an orange A-line wool dress and matching coat, made for Florence Knoll. She also has a selection of Halston worthy of Studio 54, including a drapey pantsuit in tie-dyed green velvet.

Modernism + Art20 has a way of blurring the distinctions between the sculptural, decorative and wearable. Often it’s simply a matter of scale — or so the necklaces by artists including Arman, Wilfredo Lam and Harry Bertoia, at Didier’s booth, would suggest. Another jewelry dealer, Mark McDonald, has an entire case of Art Smith’s whimsical, Calder-esque pieces. Others can be seen right now at the Brooklyn Museum — the beneficiary of the fair’s opening-night preview, and another good place to find art mingling with design.

Modernism + Art20 is at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street, from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday; noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday; (212) 777-5218 or sanfordsmith.com.

%d bloggers like this: