Tanner-Hill Gallery, Chattanooga, Tennessee, offered the Obama Chair, a basswood carved chair, 2012-13, for $4800. Hidden under the seat, to be turned up or down, “depending when you need them,” is a set of carved testicles. The artist, Lonnie Usrey, a dairy farmer from northwest Arkansas (and Angela Usrey’s uncle) is a huge Obama supporter, she said. “He always carved, especially during downtime between dairy seasons. Is he an Outsider artist?” Usrey asked. “Not really. If you asked him, he’d say, ‘I’m a dairy farmer. I carve sometimes.’” She received a commission for a second chair during the fair and has further interest from someone who “might want a Michelle and Barack” chair.
Carver Ted Ludwiczak began his art career when he retired from making contact lenses. Living north of New York City along the Hudson River, Ludwiczak would construct stone walls and eventually he began to carve faces from the stones. He began with reddish-colored sandstone that oxidized to a brown hue. He now uses granite as well. His first tool, according to Aarne Anton of American Primitive Gallery, New York City, was an old lawn mower blade. From there, he went on to make his own tools. Now, at age 85, he uses some power tools, Anton explained. “Each face is different. There’s a character in each one.” Prices range from $400 to $3500.
New York City
Location, location, location could well be the new mantra of the Outsider Art Fair. After a score of years and shifting venues within New York City, the Outsider Art Fair’s move to far west Chelsea in the former Dia Art Foundation building infused the show with an insider’s cachet of glam, guts, and glory.
Smiling dealers and happy showgoers seemed to relish the new site. Spacious and yet cozy, the space, called Center 548 and located at 548 West 22nd Street, appeared custom-made for this January 31-February 3 event, created by Sanford Smith 20 years ago.
For Andrew Edlin, the Chelsea gallery owner who bought the show from Smith, “The show lived up to and exceeded my dream.” By moving the event to his work turf, he hoped to appeal to a new generation of art lovers while maintaining the longtime aficionados.
And so it did. Almost 10,000 people attended the three-day show, Edlin said, tripling the attendance of the previous year.
“It was a grand slam,” he announced proudly. “A home run.”
The 40 dealers “all sold very well,” reported Edlin. “For those of us who have been championing this work for so long” this year’s show and the wealth of good press it received was significant, he added.
For Bonnie Grossman of the Ames Gallery, Berkeley, California, this year’s show was “most successful for me. We sold across the board; all but one of the artists we presented sold,” she reported. She was pleased with the “astounding” attendance and complimented Edlin’s treatment of the dealers. “He got the word out,” she remarked.
Furthermore, the speaker panels set up by Valerie Rousseau “brought interest to the show,” Grossman said. Rousseau, who is married to Edlin, was recently named curator of 20th-century and contemporary art at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.
As one insider at the Outsider show explained, “This is unfiltered art. You won’t find any MFAs or Yale art school grads here.”
Indeed. What one found in the creations that filled four floors was hope, humor, death, despair, sanity, survival, insanity, innovation, introspection, and life. The term “Outsider art” has come to incorporate folk art of the 20th and 21st century by artists who are not only self-taught but many times are on the sidelines of society because of mental illness, physical and developmental disabilities, alcoholism, or poverty. Outsider has long been referred to in Europe as “Art Brut,” or “raw” art; the Outsiders’ credentials seem to be taking a less important place as their art has evolved and become more mainstream.
“If it’s strong work, it doesn’t matter,” said Angela Usrey. “terms are just words.” Usrey, owner of Tanner-Hill Gallery, Chattanooga, Tennessee, opined, “The only people who care are in the field.” The concept of taking a group of artists and separating them (by the term Outsider) is “just another way of separating people,” she continued. “It’s making it a purist thing.”
“It’s turning around,” however, she conceded. “Why shouldn’t we have a piece of work by a prisoner in Texas hanging next to one by a Yale MFA graduate? We’re all influenced by what’s around us,” Usrey stated.
The Outsider Art Fair will stay in its new location for next year’s show, said Edlin enthusiastically. “We’ll continue to shoot for a more dynamic mix of galleries.”
For more information, call (212) 337-3338 or check the Web site (www.outsiderartfair.com).
Carl Hammer Gallery displayed “power sticks” by artist Stick Dog Bob, a body shop worker from the west side of Chicago. Hammer researched him for years, attempting to find out his real name and whether he was still alive, to no avail. The sticks, with sticker prices of $4500, represent portraits of African-American male heads, some with intricate jewels and some with snake heads. They were probably used by black power organizations in the 1960’s, Hammer surmised.
Drossos Skyllas (1912-1973), who left Greece for the U.S. to become an artist, never sold a painting during his lifetime. He was self-taught and supported by his wife. His surrealistic painting of the Acropolis was displayed at the Outsider Art Fair by Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago. The asking price was $250,000. Hammer explained that Skyllas, who had settled in Chicago, made his own brushes because he couldn’t find ready-made ones fine enough for his pointillistic style. A View of Athens, oil on canvas, was 32" x 42" and dated 1960-70.
Kevin Sampson, an ex-cop from the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey, took his skill as a sketch artist of “perps” and now gathers materials from the streets and constructs sculptures that are political and powerful. The Golden Spike, 2001, mixed media, 48" x 16" x 11", was $4000 from Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City.
Self-taught artist Janet Sobel (Ukrainian-American, 1894-1968) was making drip paintings in the 1940’s before Jackson Pollock. She was a Russian émigré who settled in Brooklyn, and her works have been collected by gallery owner Gary Snyder of New York City for more than 20 years. He dedicated his entire booth this year to her art with works on paper from $3000 to $6000 and smaller paintings for $12,000. The untitled 1946-48 mixed media on canvas was 20" x 16".
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest