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Two leading dealers in so-called Outsider Art -- Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York and Fleisher-Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia -- have announced a boycott of the annual Outsider Art Fair in New York, organized by Sanford L. Smith Associates (coming up Jan. 28-30, 2000). In a strongly worded open letter, Shari Cavin, Randall Morris and John Ollman claim that the fair's atmosphere is "undignified" and "exploitative." The event is one "whose publicity thrives on abnormality and weirdness," the letter says, "rather than idiosyncracy, the diversity of cultures and the basic love of artistic quality and integrity."

The letter contains still more criticisms of the fair: "In this unvetted show one could see artists sitting in booths hawking their own works and even painting them for spectators as if they themselves were on exhibition. We saw fakes and inferior work to a degree not seen before. We saw caricatures of black people made by white people that would never be seen in any other type of venue but this…."

The three dealers object to the use of the term "Outsider Art," claiming it fails to adequately describe the field and sets up an unnecessary and demeaning high art-low art dichotomy. "It's contemporary art, plain and simple," Randall Morris told Artnet.

"We were not trying to bring down the fair," Morris said. "We just want it to develop a little self-consciousness." Morris suggested that the fair would improve if it were vetted and publicized in a more dignified manner. "More art, less carnival," he said. Both Cavin-Morris and Fleisher-Ollman promise to mount exhibitions of works by self-taught artists in SoHo during the week of the fair.

In a personal letter to Cavin, Fleisher and Morris, the directors of the Outsider Art Fair, Caroline Kerrigan and Colin Lynch Smith, denied that the fair tolerated forgeries or needed a vetting committee. The term "Outsider Art," they said, has always included "self-taught, visionary, intuitive and art brut." They also defend the "carnival atmosphere" of the fair. It is exactly what appealed to artist Jean Dubuffet, the "father" of Outsider Art, who spoke of the "swarming chaos which enriches and enlarges the world, restoring it to its true dimensions and its true nature," in distinct contrast to the Greco-Roman tradition.

Finally, the letter ends with this: "We will miss your works and indeed your company at the eighth annual Outsider Art Fair next January. The exclusionary attitude that exemplifies the worst of the art world, and is so at odds with the best of self-taught art, we'll hardly miss at all."

Contemporary art collectors Mera and Don Rubell have purchased the entire studio of Outsider Artist Purvis Young. According to a report in the Miami Herald, the purchase includes hundreds of paintings on found pieces of wood, cardboard, paper and canvas made over the past 10 years. The Rubells, who operate their own museum and are widely known as avant-garde art collectors, object to the term Outsider Art. Mera Rubell told the Herald that the term amounts to "relegating poor black artists who come with a different set of rules to a special category." Young reportedly decided to sell the works because he's afraid of fire.

The Tate Gallery in London has announced "Abracadabra," an international exhibition by 15 young artists whose work is characterized by "fantasy, humor, invention, surprise and provocation." Curated by Catherine Grenier of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Catherine Kinley of the Tate, the show goes on view July 15 and features works by Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, Maurizio Cattelan, Patrick Corrillon, Eric Duyckaerts, Keith Edmier, Marie-Ange Guilleminot, Emma Kay, Vik Muniz, Paul Noble, Fernando Sanches Castillo, Katy Schimert, Pierrick Sorin, Momoyo Torimitsu, Xavier Veilhan and Brigitte Zieger. Will the show have the same market magic as "Sensation"? Stay tuned!

Art donors routinely exaggerate the value of art they give to charities and just as frequently undervalue the objects left to heirs, according to the Internal Revenue Service's "art advisory panel," an anonymous group of art dealers, appraisers and other art-market specialists. In its 1998 report, the panel said that 37 percent of 973 items in 102 returns had been valued incorrectly. The committee agreed with taxpayers on 54 percent of the appraisals and said that nine percent needed further study. Taxpayers had claimed a total value of $215.8 million, and the panel recommended "adjustments" of $64.5 million. The claimed value of the average art gift was $81,975; the average estate item was $263,858. The art advisory panel is called in when a taxpayer says a work is worth at least $20,000.

Painter and Newsweek magazine art critic Peter Plagens has published his first book of fiction. Titled Time for Robo, the book is published by Black Heron Press in Seattle (and can be ordered for $24.95 through the Artnet bookstore). Robo is described by Kirkus Reviews as a white, ex-ABA basketball player who could disappear on the court and reappear midair with a slam dunk. Kirkus goes on to ask, "Will Newsweek review this fitfully amusing extragalactic word salad?" Apparently so. Newsweek called it "a surreal waltz across space, time and cultures," and said, "What you'd expect from a guy whose first Newsweek piece compared Cézanne to Ernest Tubb." Who's Ernest Tubb?

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art mega-patron Phyllis Wattis has bought the museum a brand new Robert Rauschenberg -- Port of Entry (1998), a 10 by 15 foot photocollage that was the star of his recent show at PaceWildenstein in New York. "The Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art in New York both wanted the piece,'' SFMoMA director David A. Ross told the San Francisco Examiner. But Rauschenberg gave SFMoMA first dibs on it and a deal was struck. The purchase price wasn't disclosed. SFMoMA bought 14 works directly from the artist last year. Continuing its buying spree, SFMoMA also bought 22 works from Ellsworth Kelly worth an estimated $20 million through the artist's New York dealer, Matthew Marks. The works go on exhibition in the summer of 2000.

A new $5-million nonprofit dubbed Creative Capital Foundation has been formed to make grants to individual artists -- and promises to specialize in edgy, controversial projects. Creative Capital will make 50 to 60 grants each year in the $5,000-to-$20,000 range. ''This is venturesome capital for the arts,'' said executive director Ruby Lerner. "Each artist will get individually tailored advice in marketing and promotion, in audience development and administration -- even in contracts and copyrights. As some of these projects begin to generate revenue, an agreed-upon percentage of their returns will go back to Creative Capital…." The organization will also sponsor annual retreats for artists and a quarterly publication. Its offices are at the Andy Warhol Foundation at 65 Bleecker Street in New York. Applications for the first round of grants are due July 1-Aug. 16, 1999. For info email or go to the website at

Groundbreaking for the new National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, D.C., has been delayed until late summer or early fall. Design changes in the $110-million structure were rejected last month by Washington's Fine Arts Commission. Chairman J. Carter Brown denounced as "ugly" a thick column proposed to hold up a bold overhanging roof.

Web mavens with an art-news jones remember Art Daily, a site that specialized in presenting an assortment of daily art reports and art reviews, many garnered from newswires and newspapers around the globe. Put out of business by a savvy New York Times reporter, now publisher Ignacio Villarreal is back with a revitalized publication that features news digests, museum listings and more.

Blessed were the few who attended the New Museum bookstore party for The Warhol Project by artist Deborah Kass. Visitors entered the store to discover, lined up at a table, silver magic-marker autograph pens at the ready, the artist herself and four illustrious authors of the catalogue essays: Michael Plante, curator of the exhibition and director of Tulane's Newcomb Art Gallery, where it is presently on view (Mar. 8-May 29, 1999), along with art historians Linda Nochlin, Robert Rosenblum and Mary Anne Staiszewski. "The show is going to travel, venues to be announced!" said Kass, in perfect copy-ready prose.

Reports of a planned sale of Donald Judd's five-story cast-iron building at 101 Spring Street in Soho are false, according to Judd's son and executor, Flavin Judd. "The building represents the early history of Don's work," Flavin said, "and to get rid of it would be criminal." Flavin and his sister, Rainer Judd (who is coexecutor of the estate), "fully intend to preserve the permanent installations there in accord with Don's wishes." The building is a kind of mini-museum designed by Judd himself. It includes major light installations by Dan Flavin on the ground and top floor, a huge mural by David Novros, furniture by Gerrit Reitveld, works by Larry Bell, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt and others, and even a wall of Judd's beloved single-malt scotches.

In the bookstore:
Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project