Hyperallergenic - Dec. 2018
When “Outliers” and “Outsiders” Are No Longer Useful Categories in Art
Inherent in the show Outliers and American Vanguard Art is a kind of subtle hierarchy among artists, even if the curator has tried to delimit its force. Douglas Messerli
LOS ANGELES — Outliers and American Vanguard Art, which recently opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is overwhelming in the quantity and quality of the art shown. Organized by the National Gallery of Art and curated by that museum’s Lynne Cooke (coordinated here by LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez), the exhibition not only argues that vanguard, trained American artists were often influenced by untrained artists who were ostracized or simply ignored because of their gender, race, and simple styles of their art; it also attempts, as a significant contribution to art history, to be a kind of historical compendium of the several art gallery shows that first brought the “outliers” to the public’s attention.
Outliers cites the 1924 Whitney Studio Club (now the Whitney Museum of American Art), whose artist collectors included modernist painters such as Charles Sheeler and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Moving into the 1930s, we learn of the private collections of artists such as Elie Nadelman, and of the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, who in the 1930s hung European artists (Henri Rousseau was one of his favorites, three of whose paintings grace these walls) and Americans who refused to differentiate between what came to be called “outsider” art from the experimentation of the day.
More contemporary exhibitions include Naives and Visionaries (organized at the Walker Art Center by Martin Friedman and others in 1974); Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980 (curated for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1982 by Jane Livingston and John Beardsley); LACMA’s own Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art (curated by Maurice Tuchman and Carol S. Elliel); the 2002 touring exhibit of African American women living in rural Alabama, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend (promoted by folk art collector, historian, curator William Arnett); and LACMA’s 2015 show, Noah Purifoy:Junk Dada (curated by Franklin Sirmans).