Reappraising the "Outliers"

Reappraising the "Outliers"

First published: Winter 2017

In recent years, an increasing number of galleries specialising in art produced by “professional”, schooled modern and contemporary art-makers have begun showing the creations of their self-taught peers. Similarly, some high-profile exhibitions at museums or other venues, primarily in the United States and Europe, have emphatically brought together works made by academically trained artists and those whose works have been classified as art brut, outsider art, or self-taught art.

For aficionados of art forms in those latter, related categories who consider themselves aesthetic purists, seeing such works displayed alongside those of “professional” artists in a way that seems to downplay or ignore the distinctions between them may seem curious. Is the goal of such presentations to validate the accomplishments of self-taught art-makers by placing them near “professional” artists’ works or maybe even to blur or dissolve any presumed category border between them?

With these concerns providing something of a backdrop and with other related themes in mind, “Outliers and American Vanguard Art”, a well-researched, insightful exhibition that will open on January 28, 2018, in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, is sure to illuminate certain aesthetic and historical issues in the ongoing discussion of the relationship between the work of schooled and unschooled artists. (The exhibition will travel on to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and then to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.)


Briar Head Mtn of National Park Range of Bryce Canyon National Park near Hatch, Utah U.S.A., Joseph Yoakum, c. 1969, ballpoint pen and coloured pencil, 20 × 24 ins. / 50.8 × 60.7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, gift of the Collectors Committee and the Donald and Nancy de Laski Fund

Organised by Lynne Cooke, the National Gallery of Art’s senior curator of special projects in modern art, “Outliers” will investigate how modern and contemporary artists and art institutions in the United States regarded, presented, and sometimes embraced the work of self-taught artists from the early decades of the twentieth century through more recent times. The exhibition will argue that interest in – or even a certain fascination with – the ideas, art-making techniques and remarkable creations of self-taught artists on the part of their schooled counterparts is nothing new, and that the history of this lively interaction between the creative expressions of trained and untrained art-makers is a subject that has been forgotten or overlooked.

“Outliers” will feature roughly 250 works of art produced by both schooled and unschooled artists, including, among others, William Edmondson, Henry Darger, Lonnie Holley, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Horace Pippin, Martín Ramírez, Judith Scott, Charles Sheeler, Matt Mullican, Betye Saar and Cindy Sherman. Looking specifically at the activities of American artists and institutions, it will highlight three periods during which the ideas and aesthetics of modernist avant-garde artists and outsiders intersected, and show how their encounters helped give rise to what Cooke refers to as “new paradigms based on inclusion, integration, and assimilation” between the two artistic camps.
 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #96