I had the opportunity to attend the Outsider Art Fair in New York last week (May 8 – 11). I first went about 5 years ago, and things have changed under the new ownership of art dealer Andrew Edlin. The fair is now in an old building in Hell’s Kitchen and covers 4 floors in a much more attractive setting. It was bright and inviting, and the booths were dazzling. As usual, it was hard to know where to begin.
The first thing I noticed was that the folk art was gone. Last time there seemed to be an over-abundance of countrified folk art, which I wasn’t interested in seeing. It seems that folk art and outsider art have finally gone their separate ways. (Hooray!) It is always interesting to observe what artwork is in abundance. A few years ago there were Finsters and Traylors galore. This year I noticed a lot of William Hawkings, Ramirez, and Von Bruenchenhein’s photos. All were treasures.
The OAF draws people from diverse groups. The serious collectors showed up on opening night and seemed to know everyone there. It felt like a tight group of friends who gathered for a celebration of outsider art. (Note: outsider art enthusiasts do not conform to the black + white dress code!) There was a steady stream of visitors over the next 3 days, and red dots started appearing beneath the artwork.
To walk through the fair with someone who has not been indoctrinated in outsider art is a wonderful experience. I had an opportunity to do that with my son. Although he is somewhat familiar with the genre, he was unprepared for the volume and diversity of the artwork. He marvelled at some works and raised his eyebrows at others – a typical guest, I think. If you ever get a chance to attend the fair, do it. You’ll be glad you did.