Wednesday, February 23, 2011


(Top: Freddie Brice, Untitled, c. 1987-1990 ; Bottom: Molly Stevens, Untitled, 2011)

So much of what is called “outsider” art is appealing to me for the bold visions that show little if no respect of institutional culture; you get fearless combinations of text, figuration and patterning; gutsy colors; un-precious supports and materials. To be a true “outsider,” you apparently have to not only have no affiliations with a school or official art culture, but you have to not even know that either exits. Sometimes this means the work’s bold visions are visionary; sometimes it means that it isn’t institutional but rather institutionalized. In fact Dubuffet’s term “art brut” – which I think started it all - was meant specifically to describe work by asylum inmates. The line is fine for me. I don’t want to admire work by the unhealthy or the unaware. Not only would that be exploitative, but it would be unhealthy and unaware on my part.

A lot of outsider art is scary. In James Kalm’s video report of this year’s Outsider Art Fair , we see a standing sculpture from Haiti that is said to contain a human skull; another piece is made of dirty rags and looks like a face. I don’t want to know what it can do. Keep the needles away.

I’m not scared of the word primitive if it means early. And I don’t mind the word tribal if it means part of community’s culture. I do wince at the word na├»ve (according to whom?). And I’m wary of the jumble that outsider-primitive-tribal-naive art has come to encompass. In a way, it’s all a manner of saying “not the white dude who teaches at Yale with a show up at Zwirner” – with condescending irony, for sure.

Often it’s best not to think too much about terms. A piece is good if it’s good, no matter what it is or where it comes from. You jut have to call it art.


adil said...

dear molly
i have been following your blog for a while and like your bold opinions. in my opinion art should have no boundaries. in both science. and arts when the emphasis begins to be on the what is is academically sound you start to loose the vision and innovation. i agree with you good art is good even if it is done by so called outsider. i think the term outsider art is unfair

Molly Stevens said...

Thanks for writing and reading, Adil. Maybe next year they should call it the 2012 Outsider Art Unfair...