Accessible Exhibitions: Outsider Art For All

‘For, if outsider art arises from people who have no connection to the established art world, it ought to return to that world as well.’ This sentence, found in an article focusing on Intuit’s current constant struggle to ‘get people in the door’ got me thinking about interpretative curatorial techniques with relation to outsider art exhibitions. Straying slightly from the direct meaning behind this interesting sentence, I started to think about how outsider art exhibitions should be curated in a way that makes them accessible to those who have little to no art historical education.

During research for my MA dissertation, I was looking into the idea of voyeurism and how a voyeuristic audience response with regards to outsider art exhibitions can be reduced by utilising different curatorial techniques. I have to say, I got a bit caught up with the whole voyeurism issue, until it was brought to my attention (partially by the Bethlem Heritage Blog) that we have to, in theory, provide biographical information about outsiders artists – or at the very least provide information on the ambiguity of the term itself, otherwise exhibitions on the subject would be incredibly inaccessible for those with no prior knowledge of the subject.

Bethlem Heritage’s Curatorial Conversations (which I have been avidly following), focused last month on the often dangerous use of the term ‘voyeurism’ and how it can potentially stigmatise visitors; particularly those who ‘may have a general interest but little knowledge of the realities of mental health experiences and treatment.’ It is in essence, the post claims, pointless to preach to the converted – those who already have prior knowledge of mental illness. The aim of Bethlem is to ‘contribute towards the destigmatisation of mental health’, and this can only really be done by opening access to those with no prior knowledge on or experience of the matter.

Similarly to this, Intuit’s new executive director, Joel Mangers, notes how he wants to attract people, ‘the bikers who go up and down Milwaukee Avenue, for instance’, who perhaps wouldn’t normally find themselves entering a space exhibiting outsider art; one of Mangers plans to do just this is to ‘bring Intuit exhibitions into public spaces.’

Jean Dubuffet, in his 1949 manifesto Art brut in Preference to the Cultural Arts claimed that when he used the term Art Brut he was referring to works ‘produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture’. This highlights the traditional view that outsider art comes from a place where there is no mainstream cultural influence (perhaps not particularly relevant in the present day, however); and in essence, it should be able to return to a place (or to people) who are not predisposed to ideas of art or art theory from the contemporary mainstream.

References – ‘Eye Exam: Outsider Art for All’ by Jason Foumberg – Bethlem Heritage’s Curatorial Conversations

Fitzpatrick, Anthony, ‘Research Assistant Report’, in Framing Marginalised Art, ed. by. K. Jones et al., (Australian Research Council, 2007).


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