Cultural Rebels: The Outsider Art Fair returns full swing for its 30th year anniversary at the Metropolitan Pavilion

Wayne Gilbert, Rites of Spring, 2014, image courtesy Bill Arning Exhibitions.

Outsider Art Fair

March 3 through 6, 2022

By COCO DOLLE, March 2022

After last year’s more intimate and restrictive presentations, New York art connoisseurs were able to return to social normalcy. The grand opening of The Outsider Art Fair last Thursday brought much enthusiasm and vibrant energies from exhibitors and visitors alike. Collectors, artists, dealers and art professionals were happy to mingle, shake hands and informally catch up. This time, masks were not mandatory for attendants. 

Since its inception in 1993, The Outsider Art Fair has grown an international audience, blurring the lines between the underground and the mainstream art world. Highlighting its 30th year anniversary with over 65  exhibitors and four curated spaces, l’Art Brut‘s favorite fair continues to give insolite, bizarre, self-taught artists and outsiders a chance to share their unpredictable and unique artistic creations. Within the stark ambience of the Metropolitan Pavilion, a welcoming sentiment filled the space with a variety of artistic genres and backgrounds mingled alongside contemporary works. 

Sylvain and Gyslaine Staëlens, Personnage, 2021, Cavin-Morris Gallery, image by Coco Dolle.

A long-time art fair participant, the Cavin-Morris gallery presented its roster of artists amongst the duo of Sylvain and Gyslaine Staëlens, a mystic couple retired to the confines of the French mountains of Auvergne. Gathering volcanic and earth material from their surrounding nature, they fashion dark figurines made of wood, metal and cloth sculptures. Personnage evokes creatures of the forest with a penchant for crucifixes and totems.

Roy Ferdinand, Drawing, 1959-2004, image courtesy Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Another heavy hitter in the field, Bill Arning Exhibition focused on the playful and provocative art of Wayne Gilbert, juxtaposing emblems of strange bucolic beauty in his work, Rites of Passage, next to darker text-based signs made of human remains and ashes. Much of the titled pieces displayed including Rough Road, Dead End, MacD and Endless Days Endless Nights, sparked conversations on American nihilism while sustaining a deeper message on the unprecedented state of an apocalyptic world.  

In the curated spaces of Paul Laster, “Beyond Genres: Self-taught artist making contemporary art” showcased artists present in both national and international galleries. Informed by his extensive knowledge of Asian and Middle Eastern art scenes, Paul’s eclectic selection of artists radiates with eccentricities and a particular colorful palette. Standing out was the work of Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj that takes references from both street culture, pop art and portrait photography. 

Owen Lee, Untitled,1970, Forest Grove Preserve, image by Coco Dolle.

Shrine presented a tight curation of small works from Luise Ross’ collection, a pioneer art collector and dealer. The Andrew Edlin Gallery displayed a traditional salon style presentation of drawings, works on paper, photography and mixed media featuring the works of Roy Ferdinand, Marcel Bascoulard and Agatha Wojciechowsky.

Most unusual, was a humble first timer in the art fair. The Forest Grove Preserve from Georgia, a foundation dedicated to the works of the then unknown Owen Lee. A lonely sailor at heart rescued from a wreck and a veteran of World War II, Owen spent the rest of his life making art from found materials and fabric onto which he applied paint, ball-point, crayons and markers. 

This year’s OAF was an uplifting return to meaningful art gatherings and showcases, with the usual peer support of artists, critics and collectors. Amongst early guests were Carlo McCormick, Erik Foss, Yvonne Force-Villareal, Dustin Yellin, Linda Yablonsky, Grace Roselli and David Henry Nobody JR. who unleashed a guerilla style performance roaming the alleys of the fair. WM

Coco Dolle

Coco Dolle is a French-American artist, writer, and curator based in New York since the late 90s. Over the past decade, she has organized numerous acclaimed exhibitions and programming for independent galleries and art fairs, including for The Untitled Space, Spring/Break Art Show, Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, 11 Newel Gallery and Select Fair Miami Art Basel. Her curatorial works and projects have been featured in high-end publications including Forbes, ArtNet, NY Observer, VICE, W Magazine and Cool Hunting. A contributing writer for Whitehot Magazine, her column Cultural Rebels is a curated series of interviews and articles on established artists including Judy Chicago, Betty Tompkins, Damien Hirst and the new generation of NFT artists. Her texts were further published in L’Officiel Art and Ravelin Magazine. As an artist, her work focuses on body politics and feminist issues. She has presented solo exhibitions at the Oregon Contemporary (OR) and Mary Ryan Gallery (NYC). Former dancer and fashion muse for acclaimed artists in the early 2000s including Alex Katz, her performances appeared in Vogue and The New York Times. While attending Louise Bourgeois' Sunday Salons, Coco developed her personal practice. She holds a Master’s degree in Arts & International Strategies from European Business School (EBS) Paris and further studied painting with Larry Poons at the Art Student’s League of New York from which she received a Grand Jury Award. Follow her on Instagram.

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