The end of January may mean the Super Bowl to some, but for art lovers, it's time for the Outsider Art Fair at the Puck Building in Soho.
The Outsider Art Fair kicks off with a gala preview to benefit the Museum of American Folk Art on Thursday evening, Jan. 25, and continues through Sunday, Jan. 28, so you'll have plenty of time to see the show and catch the Giants, too!
Of the 32 galleries in this year's ninth edition of the Fair, two will be new. J. P. Ritsch-Fisch Gallery of Strasbourg, France, will join five others in the foreign contingent. Grey Carter of McLean, Va., will bolster the American.
Some things not to miss: the "horror vacui" drawings of Tyrome H. Jordan at the Ames Gallery (Berkeley, Ca.); chewing gum sculpture by Nellie May Rowe at the Barbara Archer Gallery (Atlanta, Ga.), and the paintings and drawings of Paul Duhem, who spent most of his adult life in a mental institution in Belgium, at the Dean Jensen Gallery (Milwaukee, Wisc.).
Also this year, the Henry Boxer Gallery (London) will be presenting the drawings of visionary artist Donald Pass in the United States for the first time.
The Outsider Art Fair, Jan 25-28, 2001, at the Puck Building, Houston and Lafayette Streets, N.Y. For more info, call 212-777-5218.
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The Museum of American Folk Art has a new show, "ABCD: A Collection of Art Brut," to coincide with the Fair. This Paris-based collection, seen here for the first time, pays homage to the definition of "Art Brut" of artist and esthetician Jean Dubuffet.
Dubuffet (1901-1985) started looking for, and finding, art in insane asylums and other unconventional places in the 1940s. He organized an extensive collection, presenting exhibitions and publishing books on the overlooked works he ferreted out.
Dubuffet emphasized pieces made by artists with four distinctive backgrounds. He stressed artists working in insane asylums, as mediums, producing works in extreme isolation, and others who lived conventional lives but who made extremely personal art. His support for these marginalized artists was revolutionary, and he coined the term "Art Brut," or "raw art," to describe their works.
Dubuffet showed his ever-growing collection in Europe and the United States before looking for a permanent home for it. Not trusting the French government to take care of it, he took it to Switzerland in 1975, where La Collection de l'Art Brut is currently and spectacularly installed in its own museum in Lausanne.
While Dubuffet's magnificent (and still expanding) collection no longer travels, several other European Art Brut collections inspired by Dubuffet's do, like ABCD.
Filmmaker Bruno Decharme heads ABCD, or Art Brut Connaissance & Diffusion. Obviously well-financed, ABCD has been buying art like mad over the last 20 years or so. Decharme and his associates have gathered together about 1,000 pieces with a core collection about 300 examples of Art Brut ŕ la Dubuffet. Most of the work is European, including many of the artists that Dubuffet found. A few pieces by American artists have made the cut as well.
Among Dubuffet's earliest and greatest finds is Adolf Wölfli, whose overall compositions are crammed with haunted and haunting faces, birds, notes, and decorative motifs that constantly morph, blend, and reconfigure themselves. Several smaller pieces in saturated colors are warm-ups for a mainly graphite extravaganza almost nine feet wide.
The wildly romantic and sexy figures in Aloďse Corbaz's very mixed-media drawings are replete with blooming flowers and breasts. She transformed her unrequited love of the Kaiser into opulent fairytales, many on a larger scale than the pieces in the show.
Space limitations are less of a problem with Edmund Monsiel's small mesmerizing drawings in graphite of faces that merge into other faces.
Long before Fred Tomaselli and Damien Hirst chose to use pharmaceuticals, artists were forced to employ them. Jeanne Tripier's reddish and black abstract in iodine is as powerful as her embroideries with their immense, sensitively deployed range of textures.
Among the few Americans included are Henry Darger, Martin Ramirez, Dwight Mackintosh and J. B. Murry -- the last represented by two mediocre pieces. Several works by anonymous European artists are fascinating.
Co-organizers of the show, Brooke Anderson, curator and director of the museum's contemporary center, and art critic Jenifer Borum, had the difficult task of choosing about 100 pieces by 38 artists for this first, abbreviated look at the ABCD collection.
"ABCD: A Collection of Art Brut" opened at the Folk Art Museum and runs through July. For more information, call (212) 977-7298.
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Among the special gallery exhibitions mounted around the Outsider Art Fair, several by New York galleries stand out. Two major discoveries, several other important ones, plus previously unseen work by established masters give enthusiasts plenty to look at. Read on.
Luise Ross presents at her eponymous gallery on Broadway the first solo exhibition in the U.S. of Pierre Carbonel, a retired salesman born in 1925 in Anglet, France. Inspired by Dubuffet's collection, Carbonel experimented with blending emulsions to create what he calls his "combats de densités liquides." The resulting abstract organic forms resemble columns of wind-sculpted desert rocks, close-ups of insects, complex striations of subterranean matter and weird faces, often all at once.
Executed in a limited range of greens, blues, browns, ochers and black or only black and white on paper, the granular quality of the emulsions adds great textural interest to these relatively large (roughly 25 by 20 inches to about 40 by 30 inches) multi-layered drawings. Pierre Carbonel's art is a major find.
Through Feb. 10. Luise Ross Gallery, 568 Broadway, 4th fl.
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Up on 57th Street, Galerie St. Etienne is presenting "'Our Beautiful and Tormented Austria!': Art Brut in the Land of Freud." One of two new artists here, Emanuel Navratil (1875-1956) is a new Art Brut master whose total output is limited to 16 works. Two large drawings, one at roughly four by four and one at roughly five by five feet, offer dizzying bird's-eye views of skyscrapers from several perspectives. Throngs of tiny individual people crawl around them.
The American artist Achilles Rizzoli usually executed his architectural fantasies in black and white with subtle hints of color, but Navratil uses graphite and bright colored pencil on paper, paper that is really the backs of numerous sheets of hospital forms glued together.
Little is known about the artist's early life, except that he suffered a schizophrenic episode in 1940 after receiving a shrapnel wound in Vienna during an air-raid. After repeated admissions, he checked himself into Vienna's Steinhof Mental Hospital where he remained until his death.
It is his two large compositions that captivate the imagination with their never-ending grids and hundreds or maybe thousands of cars, people and other elements. Rather than taking his tableaux to the edge of the paper, Navratil rounds the corners and encircles them with borders containing abstract designs, hearts and even fish. They reminded me of marquetry tables, not a bad guess considering that Navratil turned out to be a lathe operator before his institutionalization.
A smaller picture of farmland shares as much with Egon Schiele's landscapes as with those by other Art Brut artists. So much for Dubuffet's claims about Art Brut being created in a cultural vacuum.
Other than one outing in Vienna several years ago, this is only the second time Navratil's work has been exhibited. With work this exciting, it will not be the last.
Josef Karl Rädler, the other new artist here, was a porcelain painter before being institutionalized by his family for what we would probably call manic depression today and solved with a little Lithium. Rädler (1844-1917) may also have been put away because his exaggerations included a generous regard for his abilities, far above what his actual station in life might suggest.
He left a body of drawings, most double-sided, that contains both observations and philosophical musings about the world around him. The cantankerous artist, who signed his work "The Laughing Philosopher," was encouraged to draw so that he wouldn't talk. In watercolor and gouache, most of the works run from about eight by eight inches to about 14 by ten. They have titles like They Sit There So Peacefully -- Lazily (Hospital and Grounds with Patients).
A selection of works from the "Haus der Künstler" artists of the Gugging Psychiatric Hospital outside Vienna and several pieces by contemporary artist Arnulf Rainer and works by Johann Hauser of Gugging round out the show. A larger than usual, densely drawn piece by Johann Garber in black ink on paper, Big Sexy Picture from 1999, stands out as especially entertaining, if not traditionally erotic.
Through Mar. 17. Galerie St. Etienne, 24 West 57th St., 8th fl. (A show of drawings by Henry Darger complements the Austrian works. It will be up through Feb. 10.)
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Soho dealer Phyllis Kind's "Hands Across the Sea (The Divide is Not So Wide)" is a gorgeous, polemical assemblage with works by more than 30 artists. It's almost as big and even more challenging than the ABCD show at the Museum. Installed on two levels with American pieces alternating with non-American ones, it stresses the continuum that stretches between the general term "Self-Taught" and the more tightly defined "Art Brut." (I think you could extrapolate this idea to the entire spectrum of art, from academic to Art Brut, too.)
Kind posits "a profound relationship" between many of these works that "supercedes the divide of continent, time and even mental health." By isolating geography as a factor in these works, formal and thematic concerns in common are emphasized. Of course, some comparisons are more exact than others, but the sheer number of interesting works would make this a must-see show, even if there were no correspondences.
It is easy, for example, to admire hot colors and improvisatory compositions in the works of both the African-American seer J. B. Murry (still underrated after years of being exhibited) and the Italian-born and now Mexico-based Domenico Zindato, a discovery at last year's Outsider Art Fair. The bubbles that swirl into galaxies in the ink drawings of newcomer Japan-born Hiroyuki Doi are not that different from the exquisite patterns in graphite and color of Texan Hector Benavides.
Edgy, abstract pen-and-ink drawings from a new British artist, Richard Nie, are worth special attention, too. They immediately call to mind Eva Droppová's work in the Museum of American Folk Art show. You'll come up with many more relationships once you see both shows.
Through Feb. 24. Phyllis Kind Gallery, 136 Greene St.
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Ricco/ Maresca is presenting a two-person show of works by gallery artists Laura Craig McNellis (b.1957) and Judith Scott (b. 1943).
McNellis's earlier semi-abstract tempera paintings of articles of clothing, food, buildings and farms often had a sun in the upper right, cut off corners and quarter folds in the paper. She suddenly stopped working in 1985, but began to produce again last year after she moved to a new home in North Carolina.
Her new works are tempera-painted cut-outs collaged onto paper that she no longer insists on folding. Her simple, boldly painted forms are always definite, bright, and cheery -- a happy sort of Expressionism. The gallery is showing work from 2000 -- Deer, Yellow Jacket and Ice Cream Cone -- alongside earlier pieces, like Three Red Buildings.
Judith Scott's multi-colored yarn-wrapped pieces are most often bulbous and suggestive of the body. In a few, she orchestrates solids and voids with consummate skill. She freely incorporates everything from audiotape to tied fabric scraps into her fiber art. The largest piece in the show looks like a large human torso with a long neck. I could barely keep my hands off it, surely one measure of great sculpture.
Both women are developmentally disabled. With the support of sisters, each has been able to express a unique artistic vision that has been well received in the art market. Several of McNellis's drawings are already in La Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne.
Through Feb. 17. Ricco/Maresca, 529 West 20th St., 3rd fl.
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At American Primitive gallery in SoHo, "Surreal Visionaries," takes in a range of work, both by the well known, like the technically refined multi-scene acrylic paintings of Robert Sholties, and the unknown, like the Knife and Fork Chair of Jerry Hall. The latter would have made Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp smile.
Always fascinating are Charles Benefiel's ink, tea and stain drawings. His unsettling still-lifes -- usually incorporating puppets or parts of them -- are made up of thousands of black dots from rapidograph pens. The artist told me that he was temporarily unable to work because of cramping from hours of hunching over to make all those dots. I can believe it!
Anthony Dominguez is now using White-Out rather than bleach on black cloth to create his eerie, skeleton-filled drawings -- he just gets better and better. Meanwhile, Haitian-born Max Romain puts Caribbean pastel colors to work in his sexually inspired works that freely combine the insides and outsides of human figures.
A totem pole of unpainted wood with three mouths is by a new artist, Doc Cimpuzucic, from Iowa. A five-and-a-half foot figure plastered over with a variety of plastic and metal commercial lettering by little-known Robert Justin is equally impressive. Piles of scavenged photos assembled into thick piles, fastened together, with the upper snapshot distorted by scraping and applied paint, marks the impressive debut of the Toronto-based Clint Griffin.
Through Feb.10. American Primitive, 594 Broadway, 2nd fl.
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Shari Cavin and Randall Morris have two shows up at their gallery. "Transcendentally Material, Mystically Objective" takes in a lot of territory with works by gallery artists as diverse as the late Jon Serl's paintings and Brit Chris Hipkiss' fantastic eco-drawings. Add to this line-up a group of late 19th-century American Indian ledger drawings, a series of mediumistic works by Helen Wells and friends, and even Chinese scholar rocks! David Butler's painted metal cut-outs of animals and people still manage to make a big impression amid all this.
In their back room, "Prague-gnosis," features the first outing in this country of drawings by the Czech Republic artist Jindrich Vik (1899-1980) along with those of famous fellow Czech, Anna Zemánková.
Vik is an inner voyager, who never left home. He produced small, spare ballpoint pen and watercolor drawings of a sea he never experienced, plus pictures of religious figures, like "Saint Joseph." He started drawing at the request of his young daughter when she found him severely depressed. His works exude a sweet nostalgia.
Zemánková (1908-1986) has long been considered a major draughtsperson. Her delicately hued flowers and plants cannot be found in any botanical guide. They are marvels of precision arising from an intense personal vision. Each pastel or colored- pencil-on-paper, elegant and assured, radiates its own mysterious alchemical glow.
Here are a selection of both her drawings on paper and her paper cut-out florals pasted onto backing. Many of her works mimic textiles; fabrics and embroidery being one influence on her work.
Zemánková's work is suddenly everywhere. A spectacular piece that incorporates thread is being shown at the ABCD show at the Museum. Other examples of her work are in the Kind survey.
Both shows through Feb.10. Cavin-Morris, Inc., 560 Broadway, 4th fl.
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Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI) runs an arts workshop for the mentally ill in New York City. This nonprofit group has uncovered several important artists, including Melvin Way, maker of ink drawings with otherworldly formulae, and the late Ray Hamilton, whose ballpoint pen works of animals, humans and still-lifes are almost incised into paper.
You can see and purchase works by Way, Hamilton, and six other HAI artists at the Margaret Bodell Gallery.
Margaret Bodell Gallery, 13 East 7th St. Jan. 22-30 only; noon-7PM.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.