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Boundaries Blur at the Outsider Art Fair, Which Has Newfound Attention, Pricy Dargers, and Quite a Bit More

Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee, Violet and her Sisters are Captured . .. Courtesy Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago.

Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee, Violet and her Sisters are Captured…, n.d.


One of the nice things about the Outsider Art Fair, which opens its 24th edition tonight with a vernissage at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, is that, by and large, the price point is significantly lower than at a contemporary fair of a similar size.

“The prices in the self-taught world are much lower than in contemporary, of course—it’s all without the machinations and hype,” said Andrew Edlin, the dealer and CEO of Wide Open Arts, the fair’s parent company, during a VIP preview this afternoon.

Charles Vincent Sabba, Tree. COURTESY Y GALLERY, NEW YORK

Charles Vincent Sabba, Tree, 2015.


Though there has historically been a divide between contemporary art dealers and those showing the “self-taught,” that divide, to some degree, seems to be dissolving: Christie’s will host its first sale dedicated to outsider art tomorrow night, a Bill Traylor work was prominently featured in “America is Hard to See,” the Whitney’s inaugural show in its new home, respected Lower East Side galleries such as James Fuentes, Louis B. James, and JTT show self-taught artists (and have booths in the fair for the first time this year), outsider art has been featured at the Venice Biennale and in prominent shows at the New Museum, and prices for works by Henry Darger can run as high as $750,000.

“There’s such a shortage of phenomenal work by Darger that the prices are just going to increase,” said Edlin, standing in his gallery’s booth, where a giant Darger greeted curious visitors at the preview—it was going for the not-so-outsider price of $250,000. It was hardly the most expensive one, either. Over at the Carl Hammer Gallery booth, there was a Darger for sale at $350,000, and another at $550,000.


Michael Pellew, Untitled.


Which isn’t to say that there’s not a bevy of things to buy on the cheap, or just enjoy while walking around. A highlight is the Y Gallery booth, which features a large installation by Charles Vincent Sabba where 150 bullets are painstakingly hand-painted to look like honeybees and dangled on strings from a tree. The bullets are a reflection on police brutality, but with a twist: Charles Vincent Sabba is a cop.

“He just wants to be an artist and a police officer at the same time,” said Carlos Garcia Montero Protzel, Y Gallery’s director.

JTT teamed up with Portland, Oregon’s Adams and Ollman to show work by Marlon Mullen, which consisted of reinterpretations of the covers and content of publications such as Artforum and, um, ARTnews.

“They’re translations, re-prioritizing information from the art magazines,” said Amy Adams. “We’re not sure Marlon can read. He doesn’t really talk.”


Tabboo!, Untitled


(Mullen also has a few works in the current White Columns Annual, which was organized by Matthew Higgs, an early champion of the artist who originally tipped off Amy Adams to the work. One of those paintings features an Artforum ad for a show by Polly Apfelbaum, who happened to stop by the booth as JTT’s Jasmine Tsou was looking at that work on her laptop. “This is the first time I’ve been in a painting, I’m so thrilled!” said Apfelbaum, who currently has a show up at 56 Henry.)

There’s a wonderful Michael Pellew work at Brooklyn-based LAND Gallery that features stick figures of ’80s rock stars and, hilariously, the boy band One Direction, who are saying in a thought bubble, “Hey, New York, we’re One Direction!” It went for $700 not an hour into the VIP preview. Marion Harris’s booth had some gloriously creepy photos of dolls by Morton Bartlett, and around the corner, newly formed curatorial project SITUATIONS paired some Dargers borrowed from private collections with the work of the artist known as Tabboo!, who is evidently a gigantic fan of Cher, as well as the Pyramid Club, the iconic Avenue A nightclub.

At one point, the filmmaker Jonas Mekas—who, at the age of 93, remains one of the last century’s towering figures of outsider-dom—walked by the Fuentes booth to say hello to his longtime dealer and check out works by Lonnie Holley and Joe Minter.

“I was in the neighborhood and James told me to come over,” Mekas said, chipper as ever. “It’s a wonderful collection of folk art.”

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