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 naïve (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.