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J.J. Cromer, Leakers (detail), 2007

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Outsider Art
January 23 - February 5, 2008

Stepping outside the mainstream art scene, we explore the rich and varied world of outsider art. The annual Outsider Art Fair brings a range of visionary, folk, and indigenous artwork to New York this week, including the imaginary cities of George Widener and the neo-folk tableaux of J.J. Cromer. We interview Phyllis Kind about her vanguard outsider art gallery, and we spotlight Bay Area artist William Scott, who's developing a utopian vision for urban redevelopment. For our media pick, we recommend a collection of Gregory Blackstock's intricate and enticing visual lists of everyday objects, and we review new gallery exhibitions of established artists, including Julian Schnabel, Spencer Finch, and Manuel Ocampo.

Competition for Trafalgar Plinth
(BBC News, January 8)
Six artists are vying for the opportunity to erect a sculpture on the empty 1840s plinth in the northwest corner of London's Trafalgar Square. Competing for the commission are Bob & Roberta Smith, with an eco-friendly sign promoting art, not war; Anish Kapoor, with an arrangement of five concave, colored mirrors; Antony Gormley, who seeks volunteers to stand on the structure for an hour at a time; Yinka Shonibare, who proposes an enormous glass-bottled replica of the HMS Victory; Tracey Emin, with a life-size model of a meerkat; and Jeremy Deller, who wants to install an actual destroyed car from Iraq.

Broad Keeping His Collection
(Bloomberg, January 8)
In an announcement that surprised a number of art institutions, billionaire Eli Broad said that he is keeping his 2,000-work collection in his private foundation rather than donating pieces to various museums. One of the art world's leading collectors, Broad now claims that the Broad Art Foundation will serve as a high-powered lending library, a move market analysts say might inspire other wealthy collectors to do the same. Broad had once promised a portion of his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which recently unveiled the redesigned galleries housing its permanent collection of modern works.

Chapmans Making More Mischief
(Sunday Times, January 13)
Never ones to shy away from controversy, art provocateurs and brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman are planning to exhibit a grotesque updating of William Hogarth's 1773 work A Rake's Progress. The original work, comprised of eight paintings, was a narrative social commentary about a merchant's son who carelessly loses his inheritance to vice. The Chapmans' version, composed in pen and watercolor, replaces Hogarth's human faces with animal heads and distorted visages, and is on view at London's Hayward Gallery starting on January 25. In a related story, the Chapmans have been tapped as celebrity hijackers on the popular British reality show Big Brother.

Mugrabi Corners Warhol Market
(Wall Street Journal, January 4)
How many Andy Warhols are enough? For Jose Mugrabi, there may not be a an answer aside from: "More, thank you." Along with his two sons, the former cloth merchant from Bogotá, Colombia, has built a collection of around 800 works (and counting) by the original Factory superstar over the last 20 years; the haul rivals the number of pieces at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Market competitors accuse the Mugrabis of driving up the price of Warhols, making it nearly impossible for many collectors to acquire the artist's work.

Met seeks replacement for retiring director more »

Jeff Koons holds first major French show at Versailles more »

Prefab buildings showcased at MoMA more »

Until Miami Basel moves to LA, other art fairs pass the time more »

Robert Storr recaps the Venice Biennale more »

New pieces call for rethinking video art more »

Olafur Eliasson to install waterfalls in NYC's East River more »

Terence Koh's Christ-with-erection draws ire more »

Schnabel nabs Golden Globe for Best Director more »

With projects on three continents, Japan's SANAA enjoys an architectural moment more »

Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber fashion the perfect art studio more »

Portrait painting back in vogue more »

Samsung accused of art fraud more »

Chuck Close to curate first show in new Chelsea gallery more »

Inside Lawrence Weiner's Whitney retrospective more »

Saatchi Online's first real-world show more »

Rent increases pricing galleries out of Chelsea more »

Ninety-two-year-old Indian painter M.F. Husain commissioned for 99 paintings more »

Cartier teams up with Patti Smith for art exhibition more »

Tennis champ Martina Navratilova creates new kind of paintball more »

Parents can buy "vanity criticism" of kids' art more »

Anselm Kiefer brings large-scale works to MASS MoCA more »

Abstract expressionist Michael Goldberg dies at 83 more »

Italian designer Ettore Sottsass dies at 90 more »

Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try a shared username and password from BugMeNot.

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[ Outsider Art Fair ]


David Butler / Ognjen Jeremic / Christine Sefolosha / Donald Pass

Long defined in opposition to the "insider art" made by art-world practitioners, outsider art encompasses the varied practices of art brut, folk art, visionary art, intuitive art, prison art, and indigenous art. At this year's Outsider Art Fair, organized by Sanford L. Smith & Associates, 34 galleries from around the world showcase unorthodox talents at the Puck Building in New York's SoHo. Blue-chip galleries anchor the fair, including the genre's pioneering Phyllis Kind Gallery, which launched in Chicago in 1967, and New York's Galerie St. Etienne, which discovered Grandma Moses. Ricco Maresca Gallery, another New York stalwart, exhibits recently discovered drawings from Martín Ramírez and charcoal works by young New Jersey resident Justin Canha. The fair's exclusive newcomer this year is Berlin gallery Fischer Kunsthandel & Edition, exhibiting works by Adolf Wölfli, the legendary Scottie Wilson (a favorite of the surrealists), proto-modernist painter Paul Goesch, and lyrical realist Elfried Lohse-Wächtler.

Obsession defines many of the fair's best artists. Henry Boxer Gallery spotlights George Widener, an autistic savant diagnosed with Asperger's. In his Megalopolis series, Widener creates minutely detailed drawings of imaginary cities, many of which are based on magic squares that the artist connects to important historical dates. Miniature, anthropomorphic figures populate Ognjen Jeremic's works at Dutch gallery Atelier Herenplaats' booth, echoing figures by Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Tokyo's Yukiko Koide Presents curates a mini-exhibition, The Art of Necessity, highlighting manic text works by several artists, including Harald Stoffers, whose writings resemble musical notation; Kunizo Matsumoto, a fanatical dissector of Japanese characters; and elegant calligraphist Yuichi Saito, whose layers of characters form dense, abstract shapes.

Many outsider artists suffer from mental illness, which creates a complicated subtext in their artworks. New York's Andrew Edlin Gallery exhibits drawings from Chicago artist Charles Steffan — a new discovery at last year's fair — who began drawing in the '50s after a mental breakdown. Dwight Mackintosh's mental illness was caused, in apocryphal accounts, by his birth during the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906; his crude, tortured drawings are displayed by the Oakland-based Creative Growth Center. Prophetic tendencies are also visible in many of the works; Donald Pass' legions of angels at Henry Boxer Gallery recall William Blake's mystical illustrations. Multicolor oil paintings by Eugene von Bruenchenhein, represented by Chicago gallery Carl Hammer, reflect the artist's personal philosophy and interests in architecture, plant biology, and cosmology.

The self-taught are another important constituent in the outsider-art community. New York's Cavin-Morris Gallery represents numerous autodidacts, including British draughtsman Chris Hipkiss, Czech artist Luboš Plný, and Christine Sefolosha, who creates mixed-media drawings of imaginary animals. Ames Gallery, based in Berkeley, exhibits works by Barry Simons, a neo-expressionist to rival Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georg Baselitz. Virginia gallery Grey Carter Objects of Art displays a selection of artists, including Lawrence Amos, who creates street scenes, and neo-folk artist J.J. Cromer, who has a bevy of advanced degrees — though none in fine art — proving that "outsider" status is conferred to a paradoxically wide range of artists. (HGM)

The Outsider Art Fair runs from January 25 through 27, with a preview benefiting the American Folk Art Museum on January 24. Two recent books on self-taught artists are recommended: Art Brut: The Origins of Outsider Art and Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists.

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Ranjani Shettar: Epiphanies
New Delhi

Talwar Gallery
Now through January 31

  Since making her international debut in curator Philippe Vergne's 2003 Walker Art Center exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms, Ranjani Shettar has steadily gained recognition as one of India's most promising young artists. Her craft-intensive installations borrow from organic forms and use artisan labor to create immersive environments. Talwar Gallery's exhibition of sculptural works and woodcut prints reveals the artist's recent aesthetic developments. Incorporating scores of tiny, lacquered wooden beads, Touch Me Not raises overlapping wave patterns out from the gallery walls. Created for the Sharjah Biennial 8, Me, No, Not Me, Buy Me, Eat Me, Wear Me, Have Me, Me, No, Not Me weaves metal strips cut from junked cars into monumental baskets. (AM)

Julian Schnabel: Navigation Drawings
New York

Sperone Westwater
Now through February 16

  In his new Navigation Drawings, Julian Schnabel literally makes his mark on the world. Schnabel, an artist turned globetrotting filmmaker, smears 35 nautical charts of continents, obscure waterways, and infamous islands with vibrant, expressionistic oil strokes. In each work, the raw, simplistic gestures obscure geographical details and, unsurprisingly (given Schnabel's legendary narcissism), focus attention on the artist's presence, while also revealing strong formal precision. The horizontal and vertical strokes in Strait of Georgia and Strait of Juan de Fuca pulsate with intention, movement, and color, even as the oil slowly bleeds into the underlying mounting of stretched linen. As with his iconic broken-plate paintings, it's evident that Schnabel's talent is well served by unconventional surfaces. (SH)

Richard Learoyd: Portraits, Nudes and Objects

Union Gallery
Now through March 2

  For photographer Richard Learoyd, the process of image-making takes center stage. Working with a camera that focuses light directly onto photographic paper (thus forgoing the negative), Learoyd creates immediate and unique images. His larger-than-life photographs are mutely colored yet richly detailed, depicting classically posed portraits, nudes, and still-lifes of plants and dead animals. Learoyd commands the perfect stillness required of his subjects during the camera's long exposure, imbuing the works with a captivating aura. In Erika, the sitter's fragile, slight figure is strikingly tangible. In another work, the slippery skin of a blue-grey squid is set against the coarse texture of a white stone block, pushing photography to the limit of its imitative powers. (JC)

Manuel Ocampo: Guided by Sausage

Nosbaum & Reding
Now through February 9

  Renowned Filipino-American painter Manuel Ocampo breaks out of his trademark sociopolitical lexicon in 20 large-scale oil paintings at Luxembourg's Nosbaum & Reding. Burning candles, unshod feet, bare bulbs, and tribal masks fill these canvases, as Ocampo works with brash, exuberant brushwork and a vibrant, impolitely baroque palette. The title piece depicts a grass-skirted, simian Jesus using his final moments on the cross to paint a sausage, attended by an onlooking crowd of penguin drones. In Lou Reed, Ocampo depicts an aged, feeble rat surrounded by ominous refuse. Other clay-footed titans are lustily mocked as the artist recounts the pitfalls of worshipping false idols, supplanting the caustic indignation of his earlier work with the swashbuckling confidence of mature talent. (SND)

Spencer Finch: In Praise of Shadows

Galerie Nordenhake
Now through January 26

  In Spencer Finch's current exhibition at Berlin's Nordenhake, the American artist explores the nature and inadequacies of perception. In a diverse array of works — twelve serial photographs, nine drawings, a light installation of color-filtered fluorescents, and five glasses filled with progressively darkening liquid — Finch aims to replicate the measurement, memory, and color of specific shadows. Each work reproduces the spectrums of light that Finch has encountered while visiting historic locations, including Goethe's home and Parisian alleyways photographed a century earlier by Eugène Atget. By revealing the precise inspiration for his pieces, Finch reminds viewers of their present circumstances, creating works that are both chromatically beautiful and absurd in their attempt to reproduce a fleeting sensory experience. (SS)

Spencer Finch's work is also on view at MASS MoCA through spring 2008.

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[ William Scott ]

William Scott

William Scott offers a refreshing dose of rapturous expressionism with his bold and colorful paintings, drawings, and models. The severely autistic, self-taught artist has spent his entire life in San Francisco's economically marginalized Hunter's Point. Responding to his surroundings, Scott generates countless images of the neighborhood's low-income housing developments, rendered in meticulous detail. Since enrolling in the Oakland-based Creative Growth Art Center in 1992, Scott has refined his aesthetic and developed utopian visions of urban redevelopment. Personal observations, as well as a medley of pop and fantastical imagery, provide fodder for his optimistic landscapes, which are populated by a pop-star pantheon of babe-goddesses and African-American divas.

Now a number of artists, curators, and gallerists are championing Scott's work, including White Columns director Matthew Higgs and filmmaker Cheryl Dunn, who's making a documentary about Creative Growth. Scott has enjoyed a solo exhibition at White Columns and participated in numerous group exhibitions, from Art Basel Miami Beach and the windows of Barneys New York to a number of prominent galleries, including Gavin Brown's enterprise in New York and Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. For many, he has exemplified how Creative Growth's outpost for experimental, progressive, and collaborative involvement can foster the power of self-expression to defy — and expand — art-world conventions. (CM)

William Scott's work is on view in the Creative Growth Art Center booth at the Outsider Art Fair at New York's Puck Building from January 25 to 27.

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[ Phyllis Kind ]


Domenico Zindato / Carlo Zinelli / Hiroyuki Doi / Katsuhiro Terao

Phyllis Kind opened her first gallery in Chicago in 1967 and her second in New York in 1975. For the past 40 years, she has championed the work of self-taught artists alongside a stable of classically trained artists, including a group that became known as the Chicago Imagists. The first recipient of the American Folk Art Museum's new Visionary Award, Kind recently shared her thoughts about the genius of outsider art with Artkrush editor Paul Laster.
AK: How did you first get involved with showing self-taught artists?

PK: I put the blame directly on the Chicago artists I first exhibited. They were collecting found objects — they called them "trash treasures" — and among these objects were anonymous paintings. A local artist, Whitney Halsted, discovered Joseph Yoakum, a self-taught artist who lived and worked in a Chicago storefront; I didn't love Yoakum's work right away, but I looked at it. Then, in 1968, Jim Nutt went out to Sacramento State College in California to teach and came across something weird in the visual art racks. Leafing through reproductions of Botticelli and whatnot, he discovered something wrapped in cellophane. It was a real piece — a Martín Ramírez. He found out that Tarmo Pasto, who taught psychology and art, had discovered Ramírez in the DeWitt State Hospital, a mental institution. Nutt visited Dr. Pasto to see more of Ramírez' work and sent me slides. When I first saw them, my heart skipped a beat. It hadn't been that way with Yoakum, but Ramírez knocked me out cold. We tried for three years to buy the work, and finally, in 1971, he sold the pieces to us. In 1972, I made a similar discovery. I went to an auction in Berne, Switzerland, to see if I could find some German expressionist works. Among all the major European artists, there was this thing wrapped in cellophane. Guess what? It was an Adolf Wölfli. I bid on it, but didn't win. Some 15 years later, I saw it in a museum in Des Moines. James Demetrian bought it for the museum from Alice Adam, who was at that same auction in Berne. How funny is that? Finding the Wölfli in such a similar way — hidden away, wrapped in cellophane — is really interesting to me. That kind of revelatory experience grounds the incredible awesomeness of this sort of thing. That's what I keep seeking — something that makes your knees quiver. Who knows why? It's totally astonishing.

AK: What are the differences and similarities between an outsider, or self-taught artist, and an insider, or classically trained artist?

keep reading the interview »

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  Blackstock's Collections: The Drawings of an Artistic Savant
Gregory L. Blackstock, Darold A. Treffert, and Karen Light-Piña
Princeton Architectural Press

An autistic and artistic savant, Gregory Blackstock labored for most of his life as a janitor and dishwasher in Seattle, Washington. At age 40, he began drawing everything that caught his fancy — from varieties of fish, birds, and insects to cars, boats, and planes — working in pencil, marker, and crayon to create striking visual catalogues of everyday objects. When Blackstock retired in 2001, his friends and family encouraged him to exhibit his massive body of work, and Seattle's Garde Rail Gallery, with its history of showing self-taught artists, was quick to embrace the opportunity. This monograph, which is the first book published on Blackstock's obsessive practice, presents the drawings in an easy-to-view handbook format, divided by categories and accompanied by texts from Darold Treffert, a savant-syndrome specialist; Karen Light-Piña, a partner at Garde Rail; and the artist himself, including a handwritten biography and recipes for "exotic hot soups." (PL)

A show of Gregory Blackstock's recent work is currently on view at Garde Rail Gallery in Seattle through January 26.

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Cover Art
J.J. Cromer
Leakers, 2007
Mixed media
22 1/2 x 30 in./ 57.2 x 76.2 cm
Courtesy Grey Carter Objects of Art, McLean, VA
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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