Continuing our Parisian theme, we asked artist and Outside In Ambassador Carlo Keshishian to write about his experience at this year’s Paris Outsider Art Fair – thanks Carlo!
“Having attended a few ‘contemporary’ art fairs in the past, and more often than not leaving with an almost knee-jerk reaction reluctance to ever return due to how ’empty’ most of the art work (and incidentally viewers of..) seem to feel to me, the Outsider Art Fair in contrast projects a certain density and the artwork is always very ‘full’. Full of potency, history, questions, details. Aesthetic details, moral details, layers which don’t always juxtapose in the most comfortable of ways. One might say the entire affair is uncompromising, even down to its name. The discussion around the term ‘Outsider Art’ has and will continue to be had elsewhere, but one can’t help but wonder who are the people who come to see the fair, and how do they justify some of the more questionable aspects of relationship between artist and gallery. A considerable amount of the artists having died before their art was really even seen let alone sold; where does the money made from their work go? There are some murky, darker than grey areas to be aware of here. On the other hand, however, some great art is on show and there are galleries that provide a positive channel for artists to get their work seen and sold.
In the case of Outside In (Chichester, UK); having been affiliated with the organisation first hand, I know they have the artists’ interests at heart and have developed personal relationships with hundreds of artists over the last few years. It is heart-warming and highly admirable to see how such a group can help individuals, provide hope and a source of joy also. Several organisations that were showing at the fair have a similar ethic. I honed in on a gallery that I hadn’t previously noticed, which may have something to do with the highly increased amount of exhibitors involved (38 compared to last years’ 25), and was glad to see some Daniel Johnston works at the fair. The Garde Rail Gallery from Austin, Texas (U.S.A.) brought the Johnston drawings as well as works by Gregory Blackstock who recently had an article about his work published in Raw Vision magazine. I very much enjoyed learning about and looking at his work in the article, and it was good to see some of the originals for the first time. Karen Light at the booth shone like a beam of light, not dissimilarly to the works and artists that were selected. The gallery also had books on Gregory Blackstock’s work, which Karen wrote the introduction to, I believe. Not too far from their location on the second floor, Galerie Clare Corcia (Paris, France) showed a variety of flamboyant and organic bursts of whirlwind in the form of drawings/paintings by Ody Saban. While they have something delightful to be taken from them at a distance, it is really only when I look very closely and get sucked into all the different stories happening within the work, and how they link together, that I am truly satisfied. Keeping in sync with such bright moments, Clare Corcia glowed adequately herself. This is where the Outsider Art Fair really shines for me.
In parallel to Ody Saban’s fiery colours were Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s brightly coloured abstract landscape paintings, looking like some psychedelic phlegm structures, shown by the Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago, USA) which always intrigue me. There is something special about these, and it was good to see them exhibited alongside the artists’ photographs of his wife which are often channelled by galleries as a separate entity to his paintings. Hammer also had some potent Henry Darger works to ponder over. Next door, Hirschl & Adler Modern (New York, U.S.A.) were showing some mysterious works by Edward Deeds to compliment. The gallery Nicaise (Paris, France) had an impressive collection of works by Andre Robillard which certainly stood out.
Outside In yet again appear as a breath of fresh air with a wonderful roster of artists through first hand contact, bringing with them some Manuel Bonifacio works which certainly proved popular last year for their first exhibition at the fair. Albert’s incredible drawings also were very striking and causing quite a buzz with all those who perused the proximity. Martin Phillimore, whose works I have never seen, was a surprise. Great stuff. The same goes for Shinya Fujii’s large drawings, which were truly intriguing and otherworldly. Lastly, I shall draw attention to the well situated gallery that is imperative to walk through at the entrance of the fair, Galerie Beatrice Soulie from Paris, France. A particular creature caught my eye, created by a Terry Curling. I then was quite taken by what appeared to be a charcoal drawing of a vast library of books emerging from the mind of an unquestionably intensely deep thinker. This was drawn by a Paul Rumsey. Upon looking them up on the internet, it seems that these artists are actually married, joining an interesting collection of artist-couples such as Loic and Stephanie Lucas, Chris and Paul Czainski, Julia Sisi and Dan Casado, among others.
I cannot write this review without mentioning the great Galerie Du Marché from Lausanne, Switzerland. Their booth is always a highlight for me due to their having and showing works by some of the masters in the field. Unfortunately no Edmund Monsiels today, and no Raphael Lonnés on the wall, but as I asked I did get to see one they had with them in a folder and it was a highlight for me. I love it. On their walls, however, were some serious works by Aloise Corbaz, Madge Gill, and a distinctive artist that has recently intrigued me, Friedrich Schroder-Sonnenstern. For the first time at the fair, two diary drawings by Carlo Keshishian were being shown and were sold to important collections, which obviously was quite a sensation for me. One of my drawings was shown below a Louis Soutter and above a Theo, which had a Madge Gill underneath it. In a weird way, I quite like being in the company of dead people who manage to speak from beyond the grave (and particularly in this way).
While it might be best to focus on positives (this is one theory), it is natural to feel disappointed sometimes, and for the sake of balance, I will include some of the disappointments I felt in regards to the fair this year. Firstly, I am ambivalent about the venue on this occasion. I can’t quite decide what would work best, as I don’t agree with sensationalising the work too much in terms of curation, as the work is quite sensational in itself, and of a sensitive nature for the most part. However, I did find the layout somewhat uninspired and generic. It did solve the issue of impracticality which was felt by all the previous two years when the fair was held at a hotel that had very narrow corridors and the galleries each had a bedroom to hang their works in, with beds to spread some works out onto, and a bathroom to display works in somehow. While impractical, it did make the fair more of an interesting space to navigate. With the additional exhibitors, it would have simply been impossible to remain at that hotel, though.
More importantly however, the overall quality of work at the fair this year, I also can’t quite call. I spoke with John Maizels (Editor of Raw Vision magazine) who did not notice a lowering of standards, and I felt it important to ask him because the way I see it, it would be easy for me to lose perspective after seeing the fair for just a few years in a row (compared to his long haul). Of course I was excited the first couple of times to be seeing master works that I’d never seen before. From that, I thought I wouldn’t get used to seeing the good stuff and that it will be wondrous each time. This time, I found myself thinking that the Martin Ramirez works, and the Carlo Zinelli works on show were not of the same calibre as works of theirs that I had seen previously. This of course can be down to personal preference, but I really got the sense that the better stuff is no longer in circulation. The Marcel Storr works shown by Andrew Edlin (New York, U.S.A.) this year were as awe inspiring as ever though, this is true.
Last year, I was very glad to see a whole room dedicated to the works of Chomo, as well as some of his sculptures at the entrance. Not a Chomo in sight this year. No Stephanie Lucas works to be seen this year. A couple of Christine Sefolosha paintings, but I expected perhaps more space dedicated to her work, especially considering a serious monograph of her work will be published in the coming weeks. I thought perhaps there would be copies there to launch it. Henry Boxer’s absence was felt. In the years I have been frequenting the Outsider Art Fair, whether it be in Paris or New York, one thing that has been consistent is the quality of work presented by, and the distinct character and eye of Henry Boxer and the Henry Boxer Gallery. It appears the man has been busy organising a sort of retrospective of his own collection to take place at Orleans House on the outskirts of London, opening in November. Well, that’s my next excursion sorted!
As ever, the Outsider Art Fair, not without turbulence, was a thought-provoking journey (which is more than can be said about a lot of other art fairs). “