Dealer Andrew Edlin is settling in at the former Bellwether space on Tenth Avenue, where he moved his gallery in 2009 from West 20th Street. A New York native, Edlin is an enthusiastic champion of self-taught artists who operate beyond the discourse of mainstream contemporary art. Since opening in 2001, Andrew Edlin Gallery has developed his niche roster, which ranges from the unconventional animator Brent Green to the estate of the legendary recluse Henry Darger. On the occasion of the 19th annual Outsider Art Fair last weekend, AiA asked Edlin about his background, his relatively new location and the “double-edged sword” of being called an “outsider.”—LILLY SLEZAK
Your gallery represents largely self-taught and “outsider” artists. What do you think about the term “outsider” art? Would you clarify or specify it?
It’s useful insofar as people have some idea of what you are talking about. While some object vehemently to the term, to me it’s far less dry than “self-taught,” “vernacular,” or “visionary.” “Art Brut” may be the most accurate, although it’s too remote or inaccessible for a lot of people.
Do you see outsider art intersecting with contemporary art at all?
There are still some self-taught artists whose work does not rely at all on art historical references. This is interesting to me, as the work tends to be much less self-conscious than a lot of contemporary art. The less distance between the artist and the art, the more intrigued I become. The influence of this genre of art is more and more pervasive among young artists trying to distance themselves from their academic backgrounds. Subsequently, the lines between insider and outsider have blurred considerably—which is good because these kinds of labels are pretty banal.
What is your feeling for this type of art? How did you get into it?
I feel a gravitational pull. I had an incredibly gifted uncle, Paul Edlin, whose deafness lent him a certain isolation that both fueled his creativity and made it impossible for him to get his work out there. I showed some of it around, which was when I first heard the term “outsider art.” I got him into American Primitive Gallery and they had instant success with his work. So that was where it all started for me.
What other prior experiences prepared you to deal?
On the art side being a musician helped me relate to artists. I had also run a family business and learned a lot about selling from my father-the kinds of things they don’t teach in the classroom.
What were your calculations regarding opening shop in Chelsea? Was it a gamble? Especially given the different price points for outsider art?
My calculation was E=mc2. Anything worth a damn involves risk. Being in Chelsea seemed pretty obvious. Getting the old Bellwether space was a real coup. As for price points, I have works by greats like Dial, Darger, Ramirez, Wölfli, so six-figure deals are fairly common for us. I should also point out that we have a strong component of young contemporary artists. Brent Green, who was just featured in a 10-page article in AiA, has commanded substantial prices for some time. Everything Brian Adam Douglas makes is bought almost immediately; same with Tom Duncan.
How do you describe your roster of artists?
Radically individualistic. They tend to lean towards the hand-made, a lot of assemblage and collage. Darger, Brent Green, Tom Duncan, Brian Adam Douglas, Charles Steffen—they are all in some way storytellers. My artists do not tend to phone it in.
What were your priorities when building your gallery?
Continuing to put off getting a “real job” for as long as possible! Of course, it turned out to be the equivalent of 10 real jobs. Moving into a high profile storefront space has upped the ante on everything. The 17-foot ceilings have expanded the possibilities for shows and impacted the way I think about things.
Your gallery recently began representing Thornton Dial.
Yes, I look forward to seeing him next week at the opening of his solo show at the Indianapolis Museum of Art called “Hard Truths.” I will also present a major work at The Armory Show.
How did you come to know Thornton’s work and how did your gallery come to represent him?
I’d seen his work in great collections right from the start. His solo exhibition at the MFA Houston in 2006 really opened my eyes though. A colleague introduced me to Dial and his entourage last summer and I took it from there.
How did such a young gallery land the estate of Henry Darger?
I was approached and it was obviously a fantastic opportunity. Not having had a traditional art world pedigree can be a double-edged sword. I think it has helped some artists and estate owners, who often come to their positions by proximity or blood relation, relate to me as a person and as a businessman.
Your gallery just showed at the Outsider Art Fair. What is your involvement? What range or breadth does a fair of this type give to “outsider” artists?
This is my fifth or sixth time participating. It was very exciting when I was first accepted into the fair. In the last two or three years I’ve been focusing on more major venues like the Armory Show, Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Brussels, Art Forum Berlin, etc. The Outsider Art Fair has a more mom and pop feel to it, which can be refreshing. Certainly much of the work there would not be seen at any other fairs.
Anything notable happen at the fair this past weekend? Which of your artists were particularly popular?
The fair seemed to have great energy this year. The artists I brought all did pretty well, though Domenico Zindato led the pack as far as sales.