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By conceiving the notion of art brut in a Europe devastated by the Second World War, French artist Jean Dubuffet questioned the underlying pretense behind the processes of artistic legitimization, dispossessing those authorities empowered to legislate in the art world.
In ways that might be considered as ironic as they are unexpected, art brut, the related field of outsider art, and the even broader, related genre category that is known primarily in the United States as self-taught art have all become victims of their collective success. (Practically speaking, they all tend to be referred to using the umbrella term outsider art.) Today, these art forms have become more familiarand perhaps also more popularthan ever.
Although my investigations and conceptions of time are certainly self-taught and personal, they are not necessarily outside the canon of human experience or destiny. They’re in fact juxtaposed to the future evolution of technology and human neurological development. This is to say that perhaps one day some of my pictures will awaken from their present hibernation. The question here is whether my calendric calculations and reference points are merely personal or whether they’re connected to a futuristic synergized public.
Self-Taught Artists and Institutional Narratives: Can Museums Find a Balanced Response to an Exclusionary Past? Leslie Umberger Speaks with Kerry James Marshall.
2018 has seen untrained artists surge at major American museums, with the group exhibitions Outliers and American Vanguard Art at the National Gallery of Art and History Refused to Die at the Met, and the upcoming retrospective Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Leslie Umberger, SAAM’s curator of Between Worlds spoke with artist Kerry James Marshall, who wrote the introduction for the accompanying monograph on Traylor.
The concept of art brut has been constantly challenging our aesthetic perceptions and our definitions of art since its advent in the aftermath of the Second World War—although, in fact, the works brought together under this heading existed long before it was coined.
Twenty-five years ago, Thornton Dial (1928 2016) received his first solo exhibition at a New York City museum, Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger. More precisely, he received two: the show dually debuted at the American Folk Art Museum and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
The more the category of the “outsider artist” becomes a hot topic for curators and a prized commodity for collectors, the less coherent it becomes. The category is beset by two incommensurate definitions, the first concerning training, the second involving social status and psychiatric labels.
Every time I am asked to talk about outsider art, I am reminded of the old joke about the crazy guy in the mental hospital. Trapped in his cell, the madman keeps knocking on the door, shouting at the doctors: Are you insane? Quick, open up! Youve locked yourselves inside!
It is not a coincidence if Adolf Wölfli’s work ended up at the Kunstmuseum Bern.[i] In that city, you could find a community—curator Harald Szeemann; curator of the Paul Klee Foundation Jürgen Glaesemer; art historian Elka Spoerri and her husband the psychiatrist and professor Theodor Spoerri; artists like Bernhard Luginbühl, Meret Oppenheim, and Markus Raetz; art dealer Toni Gerber—convinced that Wölfli’s oeuvre, and not just his, had to be considered art and should therefore be housed in an art museum.