Magazine article Art Monthly

Inner Worlds Outside

Magazine article Art Monthly

Inner Worlds Outside

Article excerpt

Inner Worlds Outside Whitechapel Art Gallery London April 28 to June 25

Any exhibition that sets out to blur the boundaries between cultural categories is in danger of being restricted by how those very categories might be defined in the first place. 'Inner Worlds Outside', curated by Jon Thompson and Monika Kinley and presented at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, is no exception to this. The show focuses on the interface between outsider art, what Jean Dubuffet called Art Brut, and the work of so-called modern masters, such as Max Ernst and Paul Klee, and explores how artists outside the canon, particularly those situated at the margins of society: criminal offenders, mediums, the mentally ill, and so on, have influenced the development of the 20th-century Avant Garde. While the suggestion that cultural change is not necessarily instigated by an elite group or class of tastemakers is always a welcome one, this specific constellation of works carries its own problems with it, not least due to the somewhat misguided understanding of the democratisation of taste and experience that seems to inform this project. There have been some important precedents to this exhibition, one being 'Documenta 5' in Kassel in 1972, which displayed the work of psychiatric patient Adolf Wolfli alongside that of established artists. The decision to show his work was a response to another, earlier show on German soil, the infamous 1937 'Degenerate Art' exhibition, organised by the Nazis with the agenda of discrediting modernist artworks by comparing them to creations by asylum inmates. Wolfli's inclusion in 'Documenta 5' therefore needs to be seen as a kind of long overdue memory-work, a way of working through a collective traumatic past.

'Inner Worlds Outside' is of course a much less guilt-driven project, and yet there is something of a coming to terms with Modernism, of destabilising the way the modern project relates to its 'others' which seems to run through the show. The aim is to rewrite the past by arranging the works according to a different system of values, which gives the exhibition the overall appearance of a typically postmodern enterprise, but without the irony.

One of the good things you can say about this show is that it is difficult not to have an opinion about it. On one level, it is an exercise in taste: can you tell the difference between the work of the mainstream artists and that of the outsiders? On another level, you could also read it against the grain and question the very concept and existence of outsider art. In a publication which accompanies the show, Thompson argues that the focus should be 'on the works themselves rather than an over-arching theme'. …

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