Outsider Art Fair 2016 & a Visit to Kent Fine Art

The super blizzard certainly created problems for the Outsider Art Fair this year, and that, truly, is a shame given the vibrant exhibits. I confess that I was there before many of the exhibitors had completely finished prepping their booths, but it’s clear it was going to be rich and exciting show. I hope the dealers weren’t hurt too much by the weather, but given the two-foot white blockade dropped on New York City, I’m sure they must have been. If you braved the snow, you deserve great thanks for supporting art that matters.

This year’s show was not as strong in the realm of photography as the previous two years, but interesting work always shows up, making the fair worth visiting for photography buffs. Winter Works on Paper, which always has compelling vernacular work, had a set of portraits of couples juxtaposed with pages dense with writing. The effect moved the portraits from idiosyncratic family snapshots to startling ruminations on life and loss. Andrew Edlin had a wonderful collection of Eugene Von Bruenchenheim’s photographs that linger somewhere between pin-up dolls and boudoir pictures. Randall Morris’ selection of Miroslav Tichy's work at Cavin-Morris Gallery was worth a look, both for the aesthetic beauty of the images (done with a homemade, cardboard camera) and the lurid story of Tichy’s obsession with photographing unsuspecting women. Marion Harris’s display of Morton Bartlett’s doll portraits were, one the one hand, about as creepy as anything you can image, but on the other hand, precisely the type of thing you go to see at the Outsider Art Fair. The point of the fair is to experience the obsessions of private artists whose work, were it not for a stroke of luck or the intervention of fate, would never be seen. That so much of it is beautiful and compelling (did you see the huge, show-stopping Malcolm McKesson portraits and the incredible pen and inks of JJ Cromer at Grey Carter’s booth, or the bold lines of Jim Work at the Pardee Collection?) testifies to the need for ongoing engagement with art outside the mainstream. 

The impact of the fair is always strong, yet this year, I found myself missing the work of John Brill, which Kent Fine Art introduced last year. So, I wandered over to the west side of the city and made my way to an exhibit of Brill’s haunting images. The show was to be dismantled that weekend, but a new, more focused installation, was to be put in its place. We covered Brill’s work in our last issue, as well as in our review of last year’s fair, so I don’t want to dwell on it here except to say that if you are in New York, you owe yourself a trip to Kent Fine Art to see Brill’s installation. Linger there. Poke around, see the many parts of the installation, but be sure that before you leave, to take a moment, zoom out a bit, and bear witness to what you are seeing. Notice the impact, notice the force of image and time, and notice the distillation of memory. Do that, and you’ll know why I could not count my time at the fair complete without viewing John Brill’s vision. Go see it.

And next year, blizzard, earthquake, typhoon, tornado be damned, get to the Outsider Art Fair. In some ways, it’s a final bastion against the excesses of an art world that forgets that art embraces the lowly as well as the divine, the refined and the raw. Don’t miss it.

Roger Thompson is the Senior Editor for Don’t Take Pictures. His critical writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues and he has written extensively on self-taught artists with features in Raw Vision and The Outsider. He currently resides in Long Island, New York and is a Professor at Stony Brook University.