An Alternative Canon: Art Dealers Collecting Outsider Art
Following in the footsteps of such pioneering art dealers as Phyllis Kind (1933-2018) and Sidney Janis (1896-1989), more and more contemporary galleries are now exhibiting Outsider Art. Kind championed both contemporary art and the work of self-taught artists at her galleries in Chicago and New York, and Janis, who represented twentieth-century giants like Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko and Guston, brought attention to American “primitive” painters like John Kane and Morris Hirshfield in his seminal 1942 book They Taught Themselves. Today’s dealers and gallery directors are also adding works by untrained artists to their personal collections.
Over the past year alone, three solo exhibitions for important Outsider artists have opened at contemporary galleries in New York. David Zwirner held a show of drawings by Bill Traylor (1853-1949), who was the subject of a major retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. in 2018. Venus Over Manhattan showed works by Joseph Yoakum (1890-1972), who had a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972 and has a forthcoming solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, which travels to the Menil Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Barbara Gladstone is currently exhibiting the drawings of the late Chinese outsider, Guo Fengyi (1942-2010), whose one-person exhibition To See from a Distance was held at the Drawing Center earlier this year.
An Alternative Canon features nearly seventy-five artworks lent by more than thirty dealers, including a Yoakum drawing from Adam Lindemann; paintings by Folk Art legends John Kane and Grandma Moses from Jane Kallir; a Bill Traylor drawing from Lucy Mitchell-Innes; works by artists associated with the Creative Growth Art Center from Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; sculptures by legendary New York street artist Curtis Cuffie from Aarne Anton; Italian self-taught artists Vera Girivi and Elisabetta Zangrandi from James Barron; Czech art brut artists Zdenek Košek, Luboš Plný and Anna Zemánková from Shari Cavin and Randall Morris; Japanese Outsider artists Misaki Ohya and Yuichi Saito from Sayaka Toyama and Daniel Silverstein, respectively; Ivorian folklorist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré from Barry Malin; a Tom of Finland drawing from John Cheim; Vernacular art relics from Frank Maresca; photographic works by unknowns and lesser-knowns from David Winter and James Salomon, along with a Morton Bartlett from Julie Saul and a Weegee from Daile Kaplan; works by artists associated with the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from Scott Ogden, Susan Inglett and Hong Gyu Shin; and works by untrained masters Henry Darger, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and Adolf Wölfli from Andrew Edlin; along with other fascinating pieces from a surprising group of dealers.
The concept for this show grew out of the tremendous response to the exhibition at the New York Outsider Art Fair in January, Relishing the Raw: Contemporary Artists Collecting Outsider Art, which was also curated by Paul Laster.