NEW YORK CITY — The old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” seems apt of the Outsider Art Fair. The long-running fair is a wonderful niche show and has a loyal following. It wasn’t broken but even a good show can stand a little tweaking.
Under new management this year from Wide Open Arts led by gallerist and veteran fair participant Andrew Edlin, who bought the fair last year from its founding producer, Sanford L. Smith & Associates, the fair moved from midtown to an airy and light-filled building in Chelsea.
The show took place January 31–February 3 at Center 528 on West 22nd Street, which has a storied history in art itself as the former home of the Dia Art Foundation. The exhibitor lineup changed up a bit, and the fair premiered two guest-curated booths featuring solo exhibitions of Swiss photographer Mario Del Curto and the North Carolina-based artist Renaldo Kuhler, creator of the fictitious country Rocaterrania.
The 21st fair hosted 40 dealers on three floors of the building, a quarter of which were new to the fair. They include former SITE Santa Fe director Laura Steward, New York’s Laurel Gitlen, Guided By Invoices, Kinz + Tillou and Vito Schnabel. Also new were Rob Tufnell of London, Galérie du Marché of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Pan American Art Projects, Miami.
American Primitive Gallery, New York City, featured artist Terry Turrell, who is known for his use of found materials and often refers to making art as “play.” The booth was filled with choices examples of Turrell’s paintings and sculptures, which were appreciated by fairgoers. Among sales was the large painting “Oahu,” enamel and paint on pressed board panel, 4 by 4 feet.
Yukiko Koide Presents, Tokyo, Japan, hung together eight colorful works by Yuichi Saito that appear to be masses of color when viewed at a distance, but on closer inspection could best be called “outsider calligraphy,” repeated mark making of favorite characters or television show titles.
Highlights at Just Folk, Summerland, Calif., included a grouping of Chris Murray (b 1960) paintings, including a highly detailed scene of Radio City Music Hall, with an architectural feel, acrylic, marker and pen on pieced paper; an abstract crazy quilt, circa 1930, made by an unknown African American artist in East Texas; and Felix Archuleta’s carved and painted “Pig,” 1979, cottonwood and house paint. One wonders what the back story is in Jim Bloom’s painting, “Her Again,” which shows three women seated at a table scowling at a fourth woman.
Featured prominently at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, was Kevin Sampson’s multimedia sculpture “The Golden Spike,” 2001, and Lubos Plny’s ink, acrylic and mixed media work on paper, “Leg and Spine,” 2013.
Henry Boxer Gallery, Richmond, United Kingdom, featured French artists, such as Joel Lorand’s “Totem,” circa 2008, crayon on board, and an untitled ink, pencil and watercolor work by Ruzena (b 1971) from 2010. By preview night, a red dot appeared on the tag for George Widener’s “Titanic,” a 2012 ink drawing on found paper.
Fair newcomer Pan American Art Projects, Miami, offered two 1988 oils by Benjamin Franklin Perkins (American, 1904–1993): “Cathedral” and “The Future of America,” a quartet of untitled mixed media works on paper and canvas by Jorge Luis Santos (Cuban, b 1973) and an oil on canvas, “Adam & Eve with Good/Bad,” by the late Jamaican artist Kapo (Mallica Reynolds)
Another newcomer to the fair was Kinz + Tillou, New York City, which showcased works by Winfred Rembert, including “The Dirty Spoon Café,” “Cotton Cross (White)” and “Chain Gang Picking Cotton,” all dye on carved and tooled leather works.
Standouts at fair veteran Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, included “View of Athens” by Drossos P. Skyllas, oil on canvas, and a double-sided, untitled gouache on paper by Carlo Zinelli, 1966. Five intricate carved canes by Stick Dog Bob hung on a wall, making for a fetching display.
Among the most well known “outsiders” is Martin Ramirez (1895–1963), who was represented in the booth of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City. Featured were a trio of Ramirez’s iconic images: an untitled gouache, colored pencil and graphite on paper (Vertical Train with Tunnel), circa 1960–63, and two untitled graphite, tempera and crayon works on paper, both circa 1952–53, one depicting a stag on a mound with fireworks and the other of a man at a desk with a train in the background. Other highlights here were George Widener’s “Typewriter 27th Century,” a 2011 mixed media on paper, and Marcos Bontempo’s “Face Series,” 2012, comprising 12 ink and salt on paper portraits.
Tanner/Hill Gallery, Chattanooga, Tenn., showcased Lonnie Usrey’s “Obama Chair” of carved basswood, and a grouping of graphite and chalk on paper works by Willie Wayne Young (American, b 1942)
Vito Schnabel, New York City, offered a solo exhibition of Vahakn Arslanian works. Highlights included “Six Boxes of Smoking” and “Classic Russian Airlines,” both oils on canvas, and the sculpture “Engine Fan,” nail polish on metal, standing 7 feet tall. Candles, birds and airplanes are recurring themes for the artist, who is based in New York.
Lindsay Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, sold Reverend Samuel David Phillips’s “Pathway to Heaven,” a circa 1940s mixed media on oilcloth. The Georgia-born pastor of the Progressive Pentecostal Church of Chicago created 60 charts as scripture-based visual aids for teaching the bible, painting Satan, angels, war, temples, animals, bombs, saints and sinners. Highlights seen in the dealer’s booth included “Parade Horse” by William Hawkins, Harry Underwood’s “Satellite Gardens” and Stephen Sabo’s “Indian Village,” described as an impossible bottle, much like the ships in a bottle.
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., and Brett Ingram, a documentary filmmaker who worked with the artist, co-curated the Rocaterrania special exhibition, featuring art depicting the imaginary world of Rocaterrania dreamed up by Renaldo Kuhler (b 1931). Owing to his 30 years working as a scientific illustrator in North Carolina, Kuhler’s artworks on view here are as meticulously detailed as they are imaginative. Descriptions of the works include “A solder smoking mullein herb from a pipe during the last days of Rocaterrania’s Imperial Government” and “Fort Worlem, a women’s prison, modeled after the New Jersey State Prison in Rahway and named for Mrs Worlem, a cantankerous boss Kuhler worked for as a dishwasher in Denver.”
Galerie St Etienne, a specialist gallery in self-taught artists, created a focused installation at the fair based around a timeline tracing the history of the field from 1905 to the present. Four key periods and artist groups were featured: European artists discovered in France and showcased by the Museum Modern Art in the 1930s, their American colleagues featured in the book They Taught Themselves, Jean Dubuffet’s group of Art Brut artists in Europe, and the later generation of American Outsiders from Martin Ramirez to Bill Traylor.
Highlights on offer here included Friedricb Schroder-Sonnestern’s “1. Meta (Physic) with Chicken,” a 1952 colored pencil and graphite work; Anna Mary “Grandma Moses” Robertson’s “The Old Checkered House in Cambridge Valley,” a 1943 oil on pressed board painting; and Ramirez’s untitled (Breck Girl), a circa 1953 graphite and crayon drawing on paper.
In its booth, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, presented “Hands at Work,” featuring paintings by Giorgos Rigas. A naïve Greek painter, Rigas became known in the 1980s for his paintings, done from memory, of the village where he grew up. His primary subject matter was the plight of farmers and villagers, hard at work, whether harvesting oranges or putting up a building.
The Ames Gallery, Berkeley, Calif., featured a pair of fine oils on canvas by Ursula Barnes (1872–1958), titled “The Bride,” undated, and “Bouquet and Two Girls,” circa 1935–40, as well as A.G. Rizzoli’s sublime “Mother Angels Proemshaying,” an 1941 ink on rag paper.
Andrew Edlin was not only the show manager this year, but continued tradition as an exhibitor. Offered pride of place on the center wall were Thornton Dial (b 1928) (also this week’s featured artist, see cover page) with “Beauty of the Homeland,” a fine work in carpet, canvas, corrugated tin, wood and enamel on wood, and “Back Home,” 2012, canvas, clothing, cotton, denim, corrugated tin, wood, metal gate hinge, nails and enamel on wood. Ralph Fasanella’s “I Love New York,” a 1980 oil on canvas, was also a welcome addition.
Pure Vision Arts, New York City, was founded by the nonprofit Shield Institute to support New Yorkers with autism and developmental disabilities. A veteran of the fair, the art association featured work by Susan Brown (b 1957) who has autism and whose grid-like mixed-media works are influenced by her childhood growing up on Long Island.
For more information, www.outsiderartfair.com or 212-337-3338.