Purchase Story

The Hybrid Outsider Art Fair 2021

New York City

The Outsider Art Fair (OAF), usually a long weekend event held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, pivoted to a ten-day, multivenue experience because of the pandemic.

A gallery-share model, along with an online viewing room, allowed participants to visit seven exhibitions in five locations throughout New York City and to view artworks from 45 exhibitors from 29 cities and nine countries from January 28 until midnight (online) on February 7.

The fair has long been a well-attended event held during the first week of Americana Week. This year’s edition, the 29th, was moved to the second week and ran for ten days. It opened a week after Christie’s annual Outsider and vernacular art auction on January 21—held online—which totaled $2,137,750 with a 97% sell-through rate (see page 55).

One of the OAF’s programs offered on Zoom, “Grassroots Art in Vermont: Collecting Non-Mainstream Art at the Bennington Museum,” was moderated by the museum’s curator, Jamie Franklin. The panel featured Kathy Stark, curator and exhibition director of GRACE (Grassroots Art and Community Effort); Gregg Blasdel, artist, collector and scholar; and self-taught artist Raymond Materson (b. 1954), who while incarcerated embroidered small works using threads from unraveled socks for other inmates in exchange for cigarettes.

Blue Rose by Ray Materson (b. 1954), 2009, sock threads on velvet, 4½

Blue Rose by Ray Materson (b. 1954), 2009, sock threads on velvet, 4½" x 4½" was priced at $5500 by Andrew Edlin Gallery. It sold.

Materson’s work was available at Andrew Edlin Gallery and from other exhibitors at the OAF. Three works by Materson were offered in Christie’s Outsider and vernacular art auction on January 21. All sold to the same bidder. An auction record was achieved for the artist when It’s Over (Iraqi Surrender to Italian Cameraman), 1991, sold for $17,500 (est. $1500/3000).

Toward the end of the hour-long program, Materson was asked if he prefers being called an “artist” or an “Outsider artist.” He replied, “Labels are largely economic. Being an artist is what I prefer, but I’m blessed and grateful to share my work with others. We’re all intended to create. It’s part of our nature—to do, to create! Whoever you are!”

For Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has exhibited at the Outsider Art Fair for the past five years, the in-person and online model “opened the door for small galleries to cultivate new clients and reach an international market.” Owner Debra Brehmer, who opened the gallery in 2008, added, “It’s more affordable and will hopefully create more diversity in the art world,” noting the high cost of travel, shipping, and hotel rooms smaller galleries are faced with when traveling to shows.

“The gallery offers a broad selection of work, from Yale MFAs to currently incarcerated artists. A beautiful mix from all parts of society,” said Brehmer.

Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, showed several works by Della Wells (b. 1951), a self-taught artist who works primarily in collage. Many sold over the ten days of the fair, and stock was replenished. Seen here is I Say It Is My Freedom Day, 2020, 24

Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, showed several works by Della Wells (b. 1951), a self-taught artist who works primarily in collage. Many sold over the ten days of the fair, and stock was replenished. Seen here is I Say It Is My Freedom Day, 2020, 24" x 18", which was priced at $1600. It sold, as did Young Sister, Monica’s House, Sister We Must Seek Freedom on This Path, and others. Works were priced from $900 to a few thousand dollars. Gallerist Debra Brehmer said she visits the artist in her nearby home to see what she’s working on. “Her work is at all levels—she has cards and collages priced at $25 and folk-art dolls she makes with an accompanying story, priced between $70 and $150. She has gotten good press this year. She supports other black artists. She ‘scoops up elements of history’ in her art and wants others to understand the historic ground—those who laid the groundwork,” said Brehmer.

She featured three artists in her “online viewing room”: Della Wells (b. 1951), a Milwaukee artist, whose collages sold well (“We added more of her work” as pieces sold, Brehmer said); Norbert Kox (1945-2018),  a painter and mixed-media artist; and another Milwaukee artist, Rosemary Ollison (b. 1945), who works in textiles and has been featured by the gallery every year in its booth at the OAF.

One of Ollison’s pieces sold during the second weekend of the fair. In her biography on the gallery’s website, she is quoted: “When I am creating, I am satisfied, I am free! I no longer just exist, I am alive.”

Although the number of exhibitors this year decreased from 65 to 45, sales were made at a seemingly brisk pace. The site, created by Artlogic, was easy to navigate and gave visitors the ability to browse by artwork or by exhibitor and to view works on a wall and head directly to a gallery’s website. Searches were available by artist, title, or gallery and by medium, price range, and size range. Daily emails were sent to remind visitors to the site about upcoming programs, hours remaining, and highlighted artworks from various exhibitors.

The eight galleries that have exhibited at the OAF each year since 1993, the “senior class,” were recognized in one of the daily emails. Those galleries are Aarne Anton/Nexus Singularity, Pomona, New York; Henry Boxer Gallery, London; Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City; Fleisher-Ollman, Philadelphia; Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago; Marion Harris, New York City; Hill Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan; and Ricco/Maresca, New York City.

The New York galleries that hosted in-person exhibitions and shared their wall space with out-of-town galleries included Hirschl & Adler Modern, Shin Gallery, Salon 94 Freemans, and Andrew Edlin Gallery. The curated space was located at Electric Lady Studios, the Greenwich Village recording venue founded by Jimi Hendrix in 1969. Thirty works by the late musician and self-taught artist Daniel Johnston were shown, curated by Gary Panter. A few had sold by the second weekend of the event.

The OAF usually holds its Paris edition in October. Further information is available online (www.outsiderartfair.com).

This untitled work by Ying Ge Zhou, born in 1978 in China, who has attended Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, since 2010, was priced at $750. It sold, as did two other works by the artist.

This untitled work by Ying Ge Zhou, born in 1978 in China, who has attended Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, since 2010, was priced at $750. It sold, as did two other works by the artist.

Big Town Gallery, Rochester, Vermont, offered works by Helen Matteson (1925-2011), a prolific artist who was born in Chicago and moved to Vermont with her husband in the 1990s. This untitled, undated watercolor and pencil, 15

Big Town Gallery, Rochester, Vermont, offered works by Helen Matteson (1925-2011), a prolific artist who was born in Chicago and moved to Vermont with her husband in the 1990s. This untitled, undated watercolor and pencil, 15" x 11", was priced at $1000 and sold midway through the fair. Big Town sold several other watercolors by the artist. Five pieces by Matteson were included in a live exhibition, Figure Out: Abstraction in Self-Taught Art, at Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York City.

Because of age and illness, some archived works by Seattle-born artist Gregory Blackstock (b. 1946) have been made available by Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, and the artist’s family. They are being offered in limited digital translations. Seen here is The Great World Parrots Complete, Color, from The Incomplete Historical World, Part II, 2021. The 30

Because of age and illness, some archived works by Seattle-born artist Gregory Blackstock (b. 1946) have been made available by Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, and the artist’s family. They are being offered in limited digital translations. Seen here is The Great World Parrots Complete, Color, from The Incomplete Historical World, Part II, 2021. The 30" x 29" prints, from an edition of 15 with two artist’s proofs, were priced at $1800 each. The Artichokes (not shown), 30" x 17½", had a price of $1400. All are newly signed by the artist.

Farmhouse by Danny Bickmore, a self-taught artist from Gympie, Australia, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, was available from Cathy Condon Gallery, Queensland, priced at $490. The 19¾

Farmhouse by Danny Bickmore, a self-taught artist from Gympie, Australia, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, was available from Cathy Condon Gallery, Queensland, priced at $490. The 19¾" x 23 5/8" acrylic on canvas was one of several pieces offered in the gallery’s dedicated exhibition of Bickmore’s paintings. Two other works by the artist (not shown), Pink Galah, 2019, and Uluru and Red Sand, had sold halfway through the fair.

Sisters, 2015, by Stephanie Wilde, ink, acrylic, and gold leaf on museum board, 13

Sisters, 2015, by Stephanie Wilde, ink, acrylic, and gold leaf on museum board, 13" x 13", was available from Stewart Gallery, Boise, Idaho. The work portrays the Grimké sisters, Angelina (1805-1879) and Sarah (1792-1873), 19th-century abolitionists and suffragists. The gallery asked $18,000 for the work.

This acrylic and ink on paper, untitled, not dated, by Dan Miller (b. 1961), 22

This acrylic and ink on paper, untitled, not dated, by Dan Miller (b. 1961), 22" x 30", was available for $7500 from Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York City. Another work by Miller (not shown), untitled, 2020, ink on paper, 30¼" x 44", sold. The gallery also offered works by Valentino Dixon, James Castle, and others. Sales were made.

Institutionalized for most of his adult life, Eddie Arning (1898-1993) began drawing with crayons and then pastels, covering each piece of paper entirely with color. Man and Dog, Multifilter, circa 1970, was available from Hill Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan, priced at $3800. Another work by Arning (not shown), Orange Airplane, U.S.A. 75, circa 1964, sold early in the show.

Institutionalized for most of his adult life, Eddie Arning (1898-1993) began drawing with crayons and then pastels, covering each piece of paper entirely with color. Man and Dog, Multifilter, circa 1970, was available from Hill Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan, priced at $3800. Another work by Arning (not shown), Orange Airplane, U.S.A. 75, circa 1964, sold early in the show.

Alyson Vega has been making art at New York City’s Fountain House Gallery & Studio since the effects of surgery for a benign brain tumor ended her 22-year teaching career. She uses fiber and found objects in her pieces and is a perennial favorite at the OAF. Seen here is We Are All in This Together, Apart II, 2020, handmade fabric and thread figures sewn to a layered fabric background, 32

Alyson Vega has been making art at New York City’s Fountain House Gallery & Studio since the effects of surgery for a benign brain tumor ended her 22-year teaching career. She uses fiber and found objects in her pieces and is a perennial favorite at the OAF. Seen here is We Are All in This Together, Apart II, 2020, handmade fabric and thread figures sewn to a layered fabric background, 32" x 24". It was priced at $1250. Two of her pieces sold midway through the fair. “Last year a friend gave me a box of upholstery samples, and they felt right as a symbol of isolation for each individual. Many of the people seem to be dancing. I have learned it’s really important to keep moving to feel good,” said the artist.

Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City, offered Free/Not Free, 2020, by George Widener (b. 1962),  30

Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City, offered Free/Not Free, 2020, by George Widener (b. 1962),  30" x 56", mixed media on paper, and asked $20,000 for it. The gallery also sold some drawings by George M. Silsbee (1840-1900).

Shin Gallery, New York City, which hosted three exhibitions in its Lower East Side space on Orchard Street, sold this work by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961), Bridge over Owe Kie, April 24, 1947, 12

Shin Gallery, New York City, which hosted three exhibitions in its Lower East Side space on Orchard Street, sold this work by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961), Bridge over Owe Kie, April 24, 1947, 12" x 13¾". The gallery’s in-person exhibitions were The Realm of Minnie Evans, Small World, and Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning. The gallery sold two works by Ray Materson, one by Howard Finster, and two mixed-media assemblages by Hawkins Bolden.

 Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York City, has been showing the works of Frank Walter (1926-2009) at the Outsider Art Fair for the last several years. Seen here is Red Sky/Black Fence, oil on photographic paper, 5

Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York City, has been showing the works of Frank Walter (1926-2009) at the Outsider Art Fair for the last several years. Seen here is Red Sky/Black Fence, oil on photographic paper, 5" x 8", priced at $6500. Hirschl & Adler Modern hosted other galleries in its in-person exhibition To Be Human: The Figure in Self-Taught Art. Walter’s Yellow and Red Sky (not shown) sold.

James Barron Art, Kent, Connecticut, sold Curiosita, a 27¾

James Barron Art, Kent, Connecticut, sold Curiosita, a 27¾" x 27¾" acrylic on canvas by Elisabetta Maestro, 2020, that was tagged $1500. The gallery also sold works by Vera Girivi and Elisabetta Zangrandi.

Maurice Sullins (1910-1995) was an airplane waxer in Joliet, Illinois, who began painting at age 60. He was self-taught and never left Illinois. When he died his family stored his paintings, and they remained out of the public eye for 22 years. Seen here is Madame Silhouette’s Moonlight Stroll, 1970, acrylic on canvas panel, 24

Maurice Sullins (1910-1995) was an airplane waxer in Joliet, Illinois, who began painting at age 60. He was self-taught and never left Illinois. When he died his family stored his paintings, and they remained out of the public eye for 22 years. Seen here is Madame Silhouette’s Moonlight Stroll, 1970, acrylic on canvas panel, 24" x 30". Hana Pietri Gallery, Chicago, asked $2300 for it. Prices for Sullins’s work ranged from $2200 to $4800. Not shown, French Dancing Couple, 40" x 30", and Vase of Flowers on Billiard Table, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48", sold.


Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest

comments powered by Disqus
Web Design By Firefly Maine Maine Web Design