Monday, September 14, 2009

Folk Art - Part 2 - Kim Kolker

As part of the larger anti academic trend of the European avante garde which was gaining more appeal, self taught artists were found in almost every country after WWI. In the US there was the Pittsburg housepainter John Kane, admitted in 1927 to the Carnegie International Exhibition. In 1932, the MOMA in NYC held a landmark exhibition “American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America 1750-1900”, which looked admiringly to the self taught artists of the pre-industrial past for their ingenuity, innocence and simplicity of expression. There was of course Grandma Moses, one of the most successful and famous artists in America, who had her first one woman show in NYC in 1940. Completely untrained, Grandma Moses became hugely popular through American radio, tv and heavily marketed publications, even having successful shows in Europe and Japan. Self taught art waned in popularity thru the mid-20th century, as art critics and dealers became more attracted to the burgeoning movements of the Abstract Expressionists. However it should be noted that in 1982, the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. held the exhibition “Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980”.
Over the years, the definitions of folk art in twentieth century America have been wide ranging, including everything from tin men advertising a sheet metal store to weather vanes and ceramic jugs to painters like Grandma Moses to quirky outdoor environments made by singular individuals in their own backyards,(of which many still exist).
So where did the term “Outsider Art” come from? In 1972, British art historian Roger Cardinal in his survey of Art Brut or “raw art”, coined the term as the title for his book of the same name. For the British and other Europeans with their strong art academies and art traditions, coining the terms art brut, naive art, and outsider art made sense, separating these new recognized art forms from the past. However, here in the United States, with no art schools in existence until the late 19th century, the dividing lines between academic and non-academic art, and Art Brut (Outsider) and na├»ve art have not been so distinct nor appreciated. Similarly, although Dubuffet’s Art Brut is now housed in its own museum in Lausanne Switzerland, the art of the mentally challenged has never gained much appeal in the US.

In the US, self taught art, outsider art and folk art have a tendency to be lumped together as products of individuals with their own aesthetic tastes. This lack of defined terminology can be quite confusing to the American collector who wants to set perimeters for his collection. Where does one go for clarity? Self taught art is still a relatively new field in art. It is not listed in too many art history books. It isn’t listed with the other “ Isms” in art—Impressionsism, Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism, Minimalism, Surrealism, etc. The history of self taught art is being written as we speak.
If you are interested in finding out more, the US has a number of museums dedicated to self taught art and it’s past, current and evolving future role in the history of art. You may also call us at the gallery with questions.

American Folk Art Museum
45 West 53rd Street
NY, NY 10019

American Visionary Art Museum
800 Key Highway
Inner Harbor
Baltimore, MD 21230

Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and G Streets, NW
Washington DC 20560
Has permanent holdings of 20th century self taught art

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
Has a permanent exhibition, as well as a curator for self taught art

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