Whitehot Magazine

The Outsider Art Fair: Give a Hoot, Don’t Dilute by John Drury

William Edmondson (1874-1951) at Fleischer/Ollman Gallery. Untitled (Bird), ca. 1930, limestone, 9x13x3 inches.


By JOHN DRURY March 16, 2024

The 32nd Annual Outsider Art Fair is a wrap, its 4-day run coming to a close this past Sunday. And as can be expected, as evidenced in all those years past, there was “gold”. Blue-chip dealers Ricco/Maresca, Carl Hammer and Fleisher/Ollman, old-school pioneers Duff Lindsay, Aarne Anton and the Cavin-Morris Gallery, all brought along from their respective cities (Manhattan, Chicago, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio) - the really good stuff, reflective honed pedigrees and knowledgeable sensibilities. There were blue-chip works by William Edmondson, William Hawkins, Joe Massey, Melvin “Milky” Way, Elijah Pierce and Henrey Darger on display…each to die for and museum worthy.

William Hawkins (1895-1990) at Ricco/Maresca Gallery. “Big Cat”, 1987, enamel and mixed-media on Masonite, 49x56.5 inches.

I see also however, some advancing reason for concern. What I refer to as faux-folk; works created in a purposefully naïve style, simply hoping to cash-in on the unsuspecting buyers lack of true knowledge the field and unpolished eyes. There are inevitably weeds in the garden - where the roses grow, and this sort of bastardization might arguably, have gained footing a few years back, when a lackluster booth of actor Jim Carrey’s thin dreck was installed to all sorts of fanfare. Fad, is never productive – and his banal, Sunday output has since evaporated, as expected; easy come, easy go. 

Not exclusive to this genre of the visual arts, of course, and endemic to much in the arts – it’s not what you know, but who you blow. When celebrity alone, is the passkey to participation – quality is sure to suffer. And it’s been amusing to watch - these past few years - New York City’s culturati, who long pooh-poohed this work (some to my face), all presently eating one another’s asses in self-congratulatory frenzy. And as one might expect, bypassing the individuals with real, and knowledgeable experience in this field, who sit sidelined – as misguided evaluation, by these turned “newcomers” finds opportunity through lectures, texts and curatorial efforts; the same ol’ circle-jerk we’ve come to expect from big “A” Art. 


Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) at Lindsay Gallery. “Jacob Wrestling With The Angel”, 1938, carved and painted wood, 19x17 inches.

There too, is the unfortunate moniker of course – my pal Lonnie Holley, would say “outside what?”. “Outsider” of course, the subtle (?) disclaimer of sorts originating with these exclusionary pricks, attempting to hold onto their Klanish power. There I said it. I’ve no allegiances, nor do I apologize for exposing truths. And yes, “Klan-ish”, with a “K”. 


So yeah, there is a dark side to this field, even in the face of all this bright and Popish work, too darn cool and fresh. Let’s not forget that most of these first-generation makers, died in poverty; and that it is this fake fare that supplies the blinders of a reality, better understood, warts and all. So, when you see that red dot, next to the 80K asking price, that masterwork by William Hawkins (one of the most important painters of the 20th century), understand also – who’s pocketing those bills.

Raymond Coins (1904-1998) at Aarne Anton/Nexus Singularity. “Baby Doll”, n.d., carved stone.

The lesson there – do better – all voices should be heard and every great talent recognized and supported regardless race, education, sexual orientation or class. Nor, should lesser works, find support (as endemic presently in New York City’s galleries), ONLY because of race, education, sexual orientation or class. 

Shots across the bow, then. Remember constructive criticism…with teeth; before we catered to every butt-hurt individual, and “cause”? To many are still transfixed by smoke and mirrors, cast asunder from on high. Let’s call it all, simply Art. And recognize the best of it on its visual merits. Imagine. WM


John Drury

John Drury is a multi-media artist, published author, independent curator and instructor. Drury holds a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design (1983) and a Master of Fine Art Degree in sculpture (1985; including a minor in painting), from Ohio State University. John is the father of two teenagers, living in New York City since 1989 and has received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award for his work in sculpture.

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