The Outsider Art Fair as Promoter of the Genre

The phenomena of the Outsider Art Fair (the most prominent one of which is held in NYC each year) has for over two decades provided a showcase in a major international city for self-taught, folk and outsider artists. The exhibit typically combines samples of historic artists associated with the category, with contemporary or emerging figures in the field. Among the latter group, the fair has introduced the public to new outsider artists such as James Castle, Morton Bartlett, George Widener and others. The fair was originally located in the SoHo area, but has recently relocated to a gallery near a pier in the Chelsea area.

As a writer for Hyperallegic, one of the show’s supporters put it, “Very few creations are as hard to pin down as those produced by the most original self-taught artists, who primarily make their art for themselves rather than for the market or the public. These are art-makers who neither filter their ideas toutsider art fairhrough academic-critical discourse nor customize what they make — often from the most basic materials, including found objects and trash — to accommodate such theories or other agendas.” The fair gives these creators a prominent location to thrive, whose work might otherwise be only displayed in obscure venues, or at street sales.

Other examples of this kind of showcase include the Outsider Art Fair Paris, which naturally emphasizes more European than American artists. At both locations, the NY Times has noted “the fair suggests that the line between outsider and insider art becomes blurrier with each passing year.” Many of the self-taught figures become locally or regionally famous, which may lead to crossover coverage of their careers by both the insider and outsider art world. Are these figures, who receive academic as well as “outsider” acclaim, then to be critiqued on conventional, or non-traditional criteria?

At present, no other kind of art show offers as many chances to see totally new, or even uncategorizable examples of self taught art than these annual fairs. A new visitor to the main Outsider Art Fair may find it to be a gateway to the other shows within the genre, as numerous local outsider galleries, contests and sales centers are known to publicize their promotions at the event.  Artists are also increasingly adapting to the digital times and putting up gallery websites to bring awareness about their portfolio, or to put pieces up for sale. These artists also make themselves available to explain their work online. Many examples of how such sales work may be examined at this site.