This year’s Outsider Art Fair is a stripped-down and deconstructed, only seven curated show, spread across four galleries in Manhattan and a famous recording studio. (There are 45 viewing rooms online too, if that’s your thing.)
It’s a response to the pandemic, of course, and exhibition owner Andrew Edlin and director Nikki Iacovella both predict that traders will look forward to rubbing their elbows again once it’s safe to cram them all into one hall . However, this isn’t the first fair to spread to existing New York gallery space – Condo and New Art Dealers Alliance have acted similarly over the past few years – and pandemic or not, it’s a good idea.
For one thing, the galleries already pay rent, so using their properties saves money for everyone. It also encourages collaboration between galleries in different cities and could be a powerful tool to slow down the frenetic international sales cycle to suit the comparatively humane version of the art world. I think it’s the wave of the future.
Here are the highlights. Please note that a $ 15 pass will allow you to attend all shows. For Daniel Johnston: Psychedelic Drawings, however, you’ll need to make a reservation – and of course wash your hands and wear a mask.
‘Daniel Johnston: Psychedelic Drawings’
Electric Lady Studios, 52 West 8th Street, Manhattan. 212-677-4700; electricladystudios.com.
Daniel Johnston was best known as an outsider rock star, a man with mental health problems who wrote and performed memorable songs like “True Love Will Find You In The End”. But he also produced legions of strangely intense Magic Marker drawings filled with Captain America, cartoon devils, or himself as a bug-eyed frog-like creature.
This extensive exhibition, curated by Gary Panter, is the largest exhibition of Johnston’s visual work to date and the first since the artist’s death in 2019. To me, the colorful, letter-sized drawings are as annoying as they are, because they are so vividly convey the feeling of a man who is locked in an airless room with his childhood demons. Naked female torsos appear in one drawing under the legend “Meet Your Doom”, while in another a snotty-yellow head sewn up like a baseball and dangling from a cigarette asks: “Please adore me.”
“Being human: the figure in the art of self-teaching”
Hirschl & Adler, 41 East 57th Street, Manhattan; 212-535-8810, hirschlandadler.com.
Such a broad imagination as “the figure” does not make for a cohesive show. However, this curated exhibition of works from numerous dealers has many eye-catching moments.
Two undulating, green-eyed nudes by Vera Girivi go wonderfully with Janet Sobel’s little gouache of an insect garden. And Hawkins Bolden’s simplest sculptural figure – little more than a pool overturned on a board – is a fitting companion to an explosive painting by Miami painter Purvis Young from the early 1970s, in which a vengeance black figure with shotguns for wings against a fights horde of tiny police cars. The Real Gem is a great new print of a black and white photo of Morton Bartlett, who built, posed, and photographed dolls in his mid-century Boston basement. Somehow, his cast girl reprimanding her stuffed dog seems more lifelike than many people I know.
“Semiotic Terrain: Art from Australia and New Zealand”
Salon 94 Freemans, 1 Freeman Alley, Manhattan; 212-979-0001; salon94.com.
This excellent, close-knit group show uses art from Australia and New Zealand to create a range of heady dialogues. Chunky clay cameras from Alan Constable, who is legally blind, look like models of the idea of a camera, while behind them are a number of Julian Martin’s brightly colored biomorphic pastel model ideas that are harder to name.
Susan Te Kahurangi King’s pencil drawings of waves, birds and cartoon characters use every available square inch of paper – until they don’t, and stop with the arresting, asymmetrical beauty of an icy peak or tidal wave. Across the room, the majestic, fingerprint-like swirls of four beautiful paintings by Mantua Nangala, Yukultji Napangati, and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri offer a completely different treatment of the space, where the foreground and background are not fused, but rather fused together.
‘Finding Out: Abstraction in Self-Taught Art’
Andrew Edlin Gallery, 212 Bowery, Manhattan; 212-206-9723, edlingallery.com.
Like the corresponding exhibition at Hirschl & Adler, the premise of this show is far too open – but it is filled with excellent pieces if you take them individually. Judith Scott’s twine-wrapped monolith from a small strainer on a Louisville Slugger is an inspiring and contemporary lesson in imaginative problem solving. And some ink drawings by the outsider Eugene von Bruenchenhein are precise but richly decorated, like scientific diagrams of the mythological Thunderbird.
A large red painting by Maruch Méndez of Chiapas, Mexico is a revelation. She divides a multi-colored airplane into smaller and smaller boxes with thick black lines and remembers textiles and cartography as well as spider webs without engaging in any of them. An incised square made of black sheet metal by Tommy May from Australia is even more haunting: drifts of fine white lines create ghostly rectangular shapes, like the sky seen through a snowstorm at night.
“Keep your lamps trimmed and on”
Shin Gallery, 322 Grand Street, Manhattan. 212-375-1735; shin-gallery.com.
The most powerful of the three simultaneous shows in this spacious gallery on the Lower East Side is the black folk art round-up, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” simply because their works are so powerful. A weird and delightful red-edged photo collage by Thornton Dial shows Batman rising out of a blue-green sea of steel bars and a pair of quilts by Allie Pettway and Annie Mae Young from Gee’s Bend, Ala as well as any abstraction in the Museum of Modern Art.
But what’s special is again Bolden, a blind artist who made minimal but crudely textured scarecrows in his backyard in Memphis before his death in 2005. An untitled work, another basin that has overturned on a rusty metal chair, has pieces of rubber for ears and a goatee and throbbing with spiritual energy. Another, a kind of altarpiece made from a hubcap and leftover carpet on a window frame, deserves to be looked at for days.
Outsider Art Fair
Jan. 29-Feb. 7, multiple venues and online; outsiderartfair.com.