Whoever missed the Outsider Art Show this year missed a lot of fun. Lots of interest and enthusiasm shown on the faces of fairgoers. Not used to seeing so much courtesy and information provided by dealers speaking with people I was pretty sure were interested but not able to buy the often expensive art on the walls. I saw one dealer giving a lot of time to students who were taking notes while a couple of well-heeled potential clients cooled their heels in her booth. Maybe it wasn’t good business, but I liked what I saw.
There were two notable things about the exhibition. One was the very high quality of the offerings and the other was steadily rising prices. Outsider art has moved into the big time, although the highest price I found was the $260,000 for a Martin Ramirez graphite, tempera and crayon drawing on paper, 48 x 36 inches. AT Creative Growth Gallery, Oakland, California, there was a Judith Scott ball of twine priced at $50,000. (Currently Scott has a show at the Brooklyn Museum curated by Catherine Morris, an OTE alum). The photo, seen left, is of the woolly ball and Gaela Fernandez, the gallery’s Paris representative. Almost as much as the $60,000 asked for a Henry Darger mixed media work on paper, 8.5 x 11.75 inches from 1950, depicting a fierce looking military man.
At Marion Harris the strange photos of dolls who are posed as children, and who look like children, by Morton Bartlett, are priced in the $22,000 range. Can I say I enjoy them but at the same time they creep me out? Well, I just did.
What did I think was the most exceptional work in the show? Since I think it may be the closest to fine art, albeit by an untrained artist (although trained as a draftsman), the extraordinary living buildings by A.G. Rizzoli struck me as most memorable. “A Building with Mr.and Mrs. Harold Healy Symbolically Sketched” from 1937, revealed how one artist’s thinking process worked. He apparently loved the Healys because he made their elegant lofty twin towers very beautiful, while their unliked cousin was a square concrete box, and a rambunctious 3-year-old became his own structure. The artist predicted the rambunctious boy would become mayor when he grew up. While the kid never made it he did actually run for the office as an adult. Bonnie Grossman, the director of The Ames Gallery in Berkeley, California, (see below) stands in front of one of Rizzoli’s great buildings. While this one is priced at $92,000, there are a number of smaller drawings that are in the $2,000 range.
I’ve always like the work of the mysterious Gayleen Aiken at Luise Ross Gallery, her depiction of her imaginery family, all carefully named and described in detail, have always fascinated me, and their prices, $8,000 and $12,000, seem within reason for a true outsider artist.
All in all, a show that should not have been missed by anyone who enjoys the art of the unknown by the untrained.