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4 Columns – 4.27.18



by Aruna D’Souza


Curator Lynne Cooke challenges notions of insider and outsider art.

Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Sixth Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC, through May 13, 2018

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Perhaps it is best to start a conversation about Outliers and American Vanguard Art—a sprawling, ambitious exhibition curated by Lynne Cooke at the National Gallery of Art—by specifying what it isn’t. First, it is not a show of “outsider art,” contrary to first appearances, though many of the eighty-plus artists on view have been saddled with that term or one of its many cognates (folk, primitive, vernacular, naive, visionary, unschooled, self-taught, etc.). Second, it is not an exhibition about the influence of outsider artists on the American vanguard, despite the fact that vanguard and outsider works are placed in dialogue throughout and the niggling “and” in the title of the show. 

Rather, as one would expect given Cooke’s brilliant curatorial career at the Museo Reina Sofia and the Dia Art Foundation, and the years of research that went into the show, Outliers seems to propose something far subtler, even radical: a reading of three critical periods in the past century of American art during which the modernist dialectic of outsider and insider broke down to a point of meaninglessness. This collapse only becomes legible when objects typically held on either side of the insider/outsider divide are brought together, as they are in Cooke’s show.

What then becomes apparent is the formation of a third term: “outliers”—eccentric, unruly creators whose work, if we are truly to make sense of it, must be seen in the context of a much broader accounting of American art than modernist approaches usually allow. The new moniker of outlier artist is capacious enough to accommodate such well-known figures as Jacob Lawrence, Marsden Hartley, Zoe Leonard, and Kara Walker, as well as many whose names are much less familiar in the annals of art history.   

Following her curatorial premise, Cooke has divided the exhibition into three sections, during which social conditions conspired to allow outlier artists to flourish: the years leading up to, and spilling into, the Second World War when populism and nativist ideals fueled an interest in folk art and vernacular traditions (c. 1924–43); the era of civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and gay rights struggles, when even esoteric art historical categories were recognized to be sites of ideological struggle (c. 1968–92); and a contemporary period starting in 1998 that saw “the integration of the works of schooled and unschooled artists together without hierarchical distinction on a level playing field,” the curator claims....more


A Groundbreaking Show Presents

a New, Inclusive Vision of American Art

"Outliers and American Vanguard Art"


  • NYT Critic’s Pick


New York Times - By ROBERTA SMITH  FEB. 15, 2018


WASHINGTON — Anyone interested in American modernism should see “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” at the National Gallery of Art. Flaws and all, this groundbreaking adventure highlights outstanding, sometimes rarely-seen artworks; revives neglected histories; and reframes the contributions of self-taught artists to this country’s rich visual culture.

In recent decades the greatness of these marginalized artists has become increasingly undeniable — whether you call their work folk, primitive, amateur, naïve or, lately, outsider — and demands have gotten louder to include them in a more flexible integrated version of modernism.

The show’s predecessors include ambitious surveys like “Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1993 and “The Encyclopedic Palace of the World,” at the 2013 Venice Biennale. But “Outliers” is different. Limiting its scope to American art, it tries to map the intersections of taught and untaught over the last century, examining not only the place of self-taught art now but how it got here.   more...



American Self-Taught and Avant-Garde Art Explored in Major Traveling Exhibition Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington


January 28 - May 13, 2018


Washington, DC—Their classification may have varied—from folk and primitive to naïve and visionary—but intermittently throughout the history of modern art, gates have opened, boundaries have dissolved, and those creating art on the periphery have entered the art world. Outliers and American Vanguard Art is the first major exhibition to explore those key moments in American art history when avant-garde artists and outsiders intersected, and how their interchanges ushered in new paradigms based on inclusion, integration, and assimilation. On view in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from January 28 through May 13, 2018, the exhibition brings together some 250 works in a range of media by more than 80 schooled and unschooled artists, such as Henry Darger, William Edmondson, Lonnie Holley, Greer Lankton, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Matt Mullican, Horace Pippin, Martín Ramírez, Betye Saar, Judith Scott, Charles Sheeler, Cindy Sherman, and Bill Traylor.  more...


National Gallery of Art

National Mall

3rd/9th Streets @ Constitution Ave. NW

Washington, D.C.


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