Outsider Art Fair Preview

Why Frieze and other insiders should keep an eye on the outsider artists.

The Outsider Art Fair, founded in 1993, is back for its second New York edition under the leadership of dealer Andrew Edlin (who also launched a Paris version last year). As was previously reported by artnet News, the fair is moving to Frieze Week for the first time this year, bringing its usual assortment of self-taught artists. We spoke to Edlin about what the move to May means for the fair, and what visitors should expect.

“There’s been so much talk about outsider art really belonging in the conversation with mainstream art,” he says. “We want to capture the audience visiting New York for the fairs. There’s going to be exponentially more eyes looking at art that weekend.”

In previous years, the fair coincided with the Winter Antiques Show in January, but Edlin believes “the fair has a different context now.” He admits the weather is a factor in the decision to reschedule to spring, but there is a definite benefit to overlapping with Frieze.

The fair is also riding a wave of increased visibility for outsider artists on the heels of Massimiliano Gioni’s exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace” at the 55th Venice Biennale last summer, which was headlined by an eponymous museum model built by self-taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti. “People are just recognizing this work because it’s so great, unaffected, and radically individualistic,” says Edlin.


Inside the 2013 Outsider Art Fair.
Courtesy the Outsider Art Fair.


If the increasing acceptance of outsider art from major institutions and collectors seems inherently contradictory, Edlin is quick to point out that there is still, by definition, no such thing as an outsider art scene. “They don’t have nights out at the White Horse Tavern debating art and philosophy!”

While some might see the increased presence of outsider art at major galleries and exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale as a sign that it is becoming part of the establishment, Edlin thinks that juxtaposing the work of self-taught artists with mainstream art by holding the Outsider Art Fair concurrently with Frieze “really emphatically points out how our fair is so different from the others.”

Despite the higher profile of this year’s fair, Edlin is adamant that “there’s not at all any kind of compromise in the work that’s being shown.” Dealers will show both posthumously discovered works and art from living self-taught artists. There will also be a strong international contingent at this year’s fair thanks to a lineup of dealers coming from or showing work from such far-off place as India, São Paulo, Tokoyo, and Africa. Unlike what you’ll find at the rest of Frieze Week, the work isn’t “informed by art history and art school and art historical references,” Edlin says.

“When we get an email from someone who says ‘I’m an outsider artist,'” laughs Edlin, “that almost right away disqualifies them.” For the truly self-taught, the work is made without any market or audience in mind. It is usually a friend or family member that recognizes the work and connects the artist to a dealer.

But that’s not the only thing distinguishing the Outsider Art Fair from the other satellite fairs that have sprung up around Frieze Week. “All of the dealers, if they had their druthers, would be at Frieze, but there isn’t enough room,” Edlin says. “For our fair, only 55 or 60 dealers in the whole world would qualify.” Most importantly, he promises that “you will see things that you won’t see anywhere else that weekend.”

Another lure is the prospect of bargain-hunting. Though the market for work by self-taught artists has grown considerably, the rising prices are still much lower than those for similar mainstream contemporary art, according to Edlin. “Absolutely the best of the best is still half a million or less.”

Edlin’s final selling point for his event? “The big fairs are not going to be as representative of what was in Venice and some of the other big exhibitions such as the Carnegie International for instance. They have to come out to the Outsider Art Fair if they want to see that!”

Outsider Art Fair runs May 8–11 at Center 548, 548 West 22nd Street, New York.

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