Magazine article Artforum International

Outside In

Magazine article Artforum International

Outside In

Article excerpt

The labels are mosquitoes buzzing around a rosy, vulnerable body of work: "alien art," "batty art," "self-taught art," "intuitive art," "anonymous art," "obsessive art," "spontaneous art," "visionary art," "prisoner art," "art brut," and - watch out, this one's ready to sting - "outsider art." Outsider artists, a small group of categorically disadvantaged people, are those who are thought to make outsider art.

However, if you look at the transhistorical culture of the world and not merely at products of the last few centuries of the museum churchstate, you'll see that it's really the other way around: a small group of categorically advantaged people, insider artists, make insider art. Insider artists have usually taken part in some kind of expensive training ritual; they may be classified as Insiders by their demonstrable obsession with rank, sales, Western history, and - here's their connection to the larger group - immortality, with the encasement of spirit (too often, their spirit) through the fashioning of an object.

In art reality, the border between insider and outsider art is permeable, stretched at one end by the concept, always dicey, of an artist's intention, and on the other by the art's reception, usually reception in the market. Every so often an attempt is made to readjust this border and serve up outsider art on a new Dubuffet. New York's annual Outsider Art Fair, a recent effort to attract collectors and consolidate the value both of particular artists and the whole category, seems to have established itself; on the other hand, the New Museum of Contemporary Art's current show, "A Labor of Love," sets out to challenge "traditional definitions of fine art, folk art, outsider art, and craft" through a tactic of curatorial assemblage - a tactic of resemblance that sometimes backfires, fixing boundaries it seeks to erase.

The most significant revaluation of outsider art has taken the form of a building in Baltimore: the American Visionary Art Museum, which opened in November. Inspired institutionally by Lausanne's Musee de l'Art Brut, AVAM was founded almost literally by one person, Rebecca Hoffberger, who claims to have baptized the $7 million venue debt-free. Architects Alex Castro and Rebecca Swanson fitted a concrete and glass teardrop around the Inner Harbor's defunct Baltimore Copper Paint Company; the turn-of-the-century Four Roses Whiskey warehouse next door, a severe brick box, is "ruralized" as a Tall Sculpture Barn.

As design, the museum almost solves an unremarked but always noticed problem: How do you institutionalize this often rude, elaborate, jagged work without killing it with curatorial kindness? …

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