This past weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the Outsider Art Fair, which debuted in NYC in 1993 at The Puck Building. Now housed at The Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, it has come roaring back after a few quiet pandemic years.
Out of the sixty-four galleries exhibiting thirteen were representing non-profit organizations that work with developmentally challenged populations. For me these were the most exciting booths at the fair. The non-profits bring work that is consistently fresh and exciting. This year’s fair included organizations from Germany, Portland Oregon and Chicago that I had not seen in previous years. Several showed work among the most surprising and compelling at the Fair.
These organizations have robust arts programming that often work in tandem with therapeutic modalities, addressing a wide range of issues for the participants. Many of the artists have been working at these non-profit studios for a very long time. Paul Moshammer, the Studio Director of Creativity Explored in San Francisco, told me that Vincent Jackson has been making art with them for 39 years. Other galleries had similar stories to tell. Clearly these arts programs have become a second home for many artists and a vital part of their lives.
These non-profits enterprises sometimes receive Federal, State and local funding. They reley as well on generous Board members and yearly fundraisers to stay afloat. The Outsider Art Fair is likely not a core income generator, but the fair raises the profile of the organizations and is a way for artists, some of whom are living complicated lives, to have their work seen nationally and earn some income from the sales of their work. All of the gallerists I spoke to recounted how uplifting it was for the artists they work with to know that people they have never met loved their work enough to buy it, a wonderful feeling for any artist, but especially poignant in this case. The organizations have curated their booths, as all galleries do, bringing what they feel will be both salable to a New York audience and what they feel will make an eye-catching booth. There is such a high level of innate sophistication and intimacy to the work in these galleries, that it is hard not to feel connected to the artists. There are almost always “bins” filled with works ranging from $100-1,000, a delight for any New York art buyer.
While most of the organizations offer traditional art-making options; drawing, ceramics, textiles, etc, The Center For Creative Works, in Wynnwood, PA, has started working with stop-motion animation and ipad graphic projects. Though they did not bring any video art to the fair, they are featuring a video made by longtime Center artist David Schmuckler on their website, a film that could have easily held its own at the Whitney Biennale. It’s interesting that this organization is integrating new media into its menu of artistic offerings. Schmuckler, who has been working at the Center since 2012 has translated his passion for “horror” into a most endearing video.
The participation of the non-profit art groups is one of the aspects of the OAF that makes it so special and so different from the plethora of other art fairs in NYC. We have the opportunity to see both “bluechip” self-taught artists like Bill Traylor, whose work sells for six figures, as well as someone you’ve never heard of whose passion for making things compels you to buy a drawing for $200. I visited for two consecutive days and the fair was robust and humming with excitement. So much of the artwork being shown is imbued with passion and emotion that it is impossible not to be moved by what you’ve seen. The inclusion of the 13 non-profits listed below added to the palpable excitement in the room. All showed superb and fascinating work from self-taught artists, many welcomed for the first time inside.
2023 Participating Non-profit organizations:
All photos courtesy of Melissa Stern.
About the Writer: Melissa Stern lives in NYC and The Hudson Valley. She studied Anthropology and Art History at Wesleyan Univ. Her mixed material sculpture and drawings are in a number of corporate and museum collections including The International Center For Collage, News Corp. Inc. JP Morgan Chase, The Arkansas Art Center, The Racine Art Museum, The Museum of Art and Design and The Wiseman Museum in Minneapolis. Her multi-media project The Talking Cure has been touring the United States since 2012, showing at The Akron Museum of Art, Redux Contemporary Art Center (Charleston), The Weisman Museum, Real Art Ways (Hartford) and The Kranzberg Art Center (St. Louis), and at The Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton.MA. She has written about art and culture for The New York Press and CityArts for eight years and is a contributing writer to Hyperallergic and artcritical. Melissa has joined Art Spiel as co-editor and contributing writer.