Before the blizzard hit New York City last week, The Arts Company’s creative consultant, Cassidy Conway, had the chance to make it to the Outsider Art Fair 2016 at the Metropolitan Pavilion. Follow along as she highlights some of her favorite moments with pictures and comments below.
*Update: The news broke that Thornton Dial had died on Monday, January 25, 2016, at his home in McCalla, just southeast of Birmingham, at the age of 87. He will be greatly missed. May his legacy live on in the work and lives of those influenced by his bold creative spirit.
As soon as I walked into the fair, my eyes were welcomed by the work of artist (and recent friend) Lonnie Holley. In case you didn’t know, last summer The Arts Company actually showed a few of Lonnie’s pieces in conjunction with the unveiling of his first large-scale public sculpture for the William Edmondson Park in Nashville, TN. It felt a little bit like home as I envisioned Lonnie Holley standing there himself with arms opened wide welcoming guests as they walked in. Immediately, I could tell this would be a unique art experience.
Thornton Dial led me on as his work seemed to be presented as a badge of credibility for many exhibitors. I have grown very fond of Dial since meeting him last year and handling his work at The Arts Company. Anne had represented him in Nashville for a number of years and I remember hearing stories of past exhibitions presenting the self-taught Alabama artist’s work alongside other important (yet unknown at the time) “outsiders" like the Gee’s Bend Quilters. How important these exhibitions were and still are for the arts community in Nashville because 10 of Thornton Dial’s works now call the Metropolitan Museum home along with 57 more by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States. It truly is an exciting time for outsider artists and the galleries, dealers and collectors who have believed in the power of their work since the beginning. What a breath of fresh air in New York City!
The diversity in style, form and color at each booth is overwhelming as rules of influence and art movements do not apply to the one-of-a-kind pieces. Each collection presented it's own interesting array of organized chaos and I could not get enough of it. I was drawn to Joshua Lowenfels' booth initially because of his Thornton Dial and Mose Tolliver pieces, but then I ended up staying much longer because of a great conversation I was having with the New York City collector/dealer. He has been in the art business for over 20 years and collects everything from folk art to fetishes. I particularly liked his paintings by C Jack. When I asked him what spurred his interest in becoming such a collector, he stated, "I simply do it for the love of it."
As I turned a corner, a work by Howard Finster caught my eye. His pieces were some of the first outsider artwork I ever experienced at The Arts Company as he and Anne were good friends and she had quite the collection from her trips to visit him in Georgia.
Upon leaving, I made sure to stop by Raw Vision Magazine booth. I have admired their magazine from afar as they are the "world's only international journal of outsider art." As I was flipping through some of their older issues on display, I struck up a conversation with an extremely kind British man standing nearby. A few minutes had passed when I finally realized that he was, in fact, the founder John Maizels himself! We continued to have a great time discussing the origins of the magazine which started simply as the hobby of a teacher who wanted to create a forum for self-taught artists. He believed in the work so much that his passion bled through and others began to notice. Since then, he works for the magazine full-time and visits New York for the Outsider Art Fair every year.
Experiences such as these are incredible reminders that the art world is not just for the wealthy collector or sophisticated dealer. In fact, the term “outsider” seems to help identify those doing it for the love of it. Whether that be the artist, collector, dealer or gallery, the “outsiders” at this fair exude a certain type of energy, passion and even obsession that differs from many of those considered to be “insiders” or part of the traditional mainstream art crowd.
I am grateful for the exposure I have had to the outsider art community; For I know that if it had not for my tenure at The Arts Company in Nashville—where outsider/folk art has been presented for the last 20 years—I would probably would have never understood any of it. However, education and exposure has taught me to see outsider art for what it truly is, incredibly creative and honest representations of human experiences. In other words, atypical artists creating art for the love of it.
Cassidy Conway currently lives in New York City and is The Arts Company's Creative Consultant.