‘Framing Marginalised Art’

I have just been doing some research for my dissertation into the different display techniques used by curators when exhibiting ‘outsider’ art and I came across the following categories in a book entitled Framing Marginalised Art by Karen Jones, Eugen Koh, Nurin Veis, Anthony White, Rosalind Hurworth, Johanna Bell, Brad Shrimpton and Anthony Fitzpatrick.

1) Biographical Emphasis

This way of exhibiting the work focuses on the biography of the artist. Although this is often viewed as a negative way to display the work of marginalised artists, Marcus Davies, in his 2007 book On Outsider Art and the Margins of the Mainstream, claims that it has some positives.

One of the positive points that Davies focuses on is the way that this form of framing can make the work of ‘outsiders’ become more understandable, as the viewer can begin to see the circumstances from which the work is created. It is a also a way to show work that is perhaps culturally and aesthetically complex and it can also give the artist a voice; a voice with which they can tell their story.

However, this display technique can “add to preconceptions that Outsider Art comes from a place of extreme otherness; the life of the artist may overshadow the actual artwork.”[1] Using a biographical emphasis can often be a substitute for real engagement with the work; however, this method is extremely popular when it comes to exhibiting ‘outsider’ art, and it has raised the marketability of work and exhibitions of the kind.

2) Formal Emphasis

This emphasis tries to eliminate the distraction or substitution of a biographical context and instead encourage a direct and uninterrupted engagement with the work itself on an aesthetic level. This method allows the work to speak for itself and lets the audience make a decision for themselves based on “the product of the individual’s art-making process and the intended use of the art object.”[2] Here, “formal considerations function to level the playing field between inside and out.”[3]

An example of the use of a formal emphasis within an exhibition is the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where ‘outsider’ art was displayed alongside the work of mainstream artists. Another viable example of this framing technique is the Inner Worlds Outside exhibition held at Whitechapel Gallery in London – where works by ‘outsider’ artists were displayed alongside the work of German Expressionists.

However, Framing Marginalised Art argues that despite being the most aligned with the contemporary art world, this method also has its downsides. Using a formal emphasis can, argue the authors, do a disservice to the artist; “muting their individual voices and ‘obscuring important ethical questions about the personal and social costs of the production of this art’.”[4]

3) Appropriate Emphasis

This emphasis focuses on the individual relationship between the artwork and the audience. An example of this emphasis used within an exhibition can be seen in Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992. Davies claims that “in recasting the relationship between modern and Outsider Art, the exhibition replaced the standard frameworks of biographical and formal analysis with a more flexible model based on meaningful interactions between artwork, beholder, and context.”[5]

Maurice Tuchman, co-curator of the exhibition, noted that by displaying ‘outsider’ art alongside ‘established, canonical’ artists, “all works are equally valid as art…. aesthetically challenging and intensely involving.”[6]

4) Patrimonial Emphasis

The emphasis here is on the promotion and preservation of ‘outsider’ art. It is “concerned with the ‘far-reaching cultural implications of outsider production’ which provides ‘a philosophical outlook premised on the preservation of culturally significant creations in deference to their specific social contexts’.”[7]

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on these ’emphases’; whether you think they are a valid way of ‘categorising’ ‘outsider’ art exhibitions, or, perhaps, you think there are other techniques used commonly within the exhibition of marginalised art?


[1] Framing Marginalised Art by Jones Veis, White, Hurworth, Bell, Shrimpton and Fitzpatrick (2010), p 29 (Appendix 2)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Framing Marginalised Art by Jones Veis, White, Hurworth, Bell, Shrimpton and Fitzpatrick (2010), p 30 (Appendix 2)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


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