Featured Image: Marcel Storr
It’s certainly true; the past year has been an incredible one in terms of raising the profile of outsider art. It came from almost complete obscurity into the limelight with multiple London-based exhibitions and more national coverage at the Venice Biennale. Here’s a bit of a recap of what happened. Sorry for the UK-centric view here – it’s only because I’m based here! Let me know of any major outsider art events that took place in the last year where you are in the comments below.
In March, ‘Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan’ opened at the esteemed Wellcome Collection in London. This display showcased the creations of Japanese artists working at day centres in Japan and was extremely successful in its aim of highlighting the complex intersections between health and creativity, work and wellbeing and mainstream and marginality. It also gave us the word ‘Souzou’, which is perhaps a somewhat better reference for what we currently recognise as Outsider Art, although it has no direct translation in English. In Japanese, depending on how it is written, it can mean creation or imagination. The term itself, I think, goes part of the way in distilling any preconceptions about this type of art because it is a word that the Western world has (somewhat unknowingly) needed for so long.
The exhibition was a timely reminder of the importance of displaying works created by those who cannot so easily align themselves with the mainstream art world. It blew away the hierarchical idea of biographical context and focused on the achievements of these artists and their incredible creations.
Following on from this majorly important exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, the Hayward Gallery hosted ‘Alternative Guide to the Universe’; an exploration of the work of self-taught artists and architects, fringe physicists and visionary inventors. The Hayward Gallery is no stranger to outsider art, having hosted the UK’s first major exhibition of outsider art thirty four years ago, and it certainly did the subject justice once more.
The show was an incredible display of the power of imagination, most aptly illustrated, perhaps, by ‘gothic futurist’ and hip-hop pioneer Rammellzee’s ‘Letter Racers’, which depicts how the alphabet might look if the letters were to become mechanised and able to fly into battle. It was without a doubt an innovative combination of art and science and re-imagined worlds, of artists and inventors who want to better understand the universe.
Of course, probably the biggest event in the outsider art calendar this year was the Venice Biennale. The Biennale, which ran from 1 June – 24 November, was titled ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’ by curator Massimiliano Gioni after self-taught artist Marino Auriti’s Palazzo Enciclopedico design for an imaginary museum meant to house all worldly knowledge. The Palace showed works from the past century alongside several new commissions, showcasing one hundred and fifty artists from more than thirty-eight countries. Blurring the line between professional artists and amateurs, outsiders and insiders, the exhibition took an anthropological approach to the study of images, focussing in particular on the realms of the imaginary and the functions of the imagination.
From 26 September – 28 November, self-proclaimed ‘Outsider Curator’ Sue Kreitzman organised ‘Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art’ at the St. Pancras Hospital Conference Centre in London. The show revealed works covering an impressive range of content, media and style by almost 25 artists, all of whom Kreitzman had personally befriended.
Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham hosted (and still are hosting!) a major retrospective of the work of Madge Gill, who without training or aspirations for fame produced thousands of ink drawings during her lifetime. The focal point of the exhibition was The Crucifixion of the Soul, which had not been on display in the UK since 1979. Over ten metres long, this immense calico is inscribed with Gill’s finely wrought doodle-like drawings and is testament to Gill’s commitment to creativity.
‘Face to Face with the Outsiders’ at the Julian Hartnoll Gallery in London beautifully brought together a vast and varied range of portraits created by those considered to be on the ‘margins’ of the art world, and ‘The Gravy Train and Roads to Recovery’ in the St. Pancras Hospital Conference Centre in London was an eclectic mix of work by Service Users at the Margarete Centre and Kate Bradbury’s dervishes. Organised by The Arts Project, the exhibition aimed to highlight the idea that whilst treatment for substance misuse historically focussed on harm reduction and substitute prescribing, other recovery methods emphasis equality, opportunity and equal access to society.
Throughout the year, Outside In ran a touring show as a follow on from their National exhibition in 2012. The show displayed work by twenty artists facing barriers to art world who were selected through the open national competition. Running parallel to this, the organisation also held regional exhibitions which allowed people all over Scotland and England to experience this incredible work.
So, this is just a brief round-up – and certainly doesn’t cover everything that happened! Here’s to an even better 2014 – we already have a lot to look forward to, including ‘Intuitive Folk’ at Pallant House Gallery and ‘British Folk Art’ at the Tate.