Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who is This Green Man?

Image courtesy of

What exactly is “Outsider” Art? (Part I)

It is art created on the fringes of society without regard for traditional genres—certainly a nebulous definition. To bring more clarity to the issue, we have to go back to the artist and collector who was one of the first champions of “outsider art.” Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) famous French artist from the 20th century, was disillusioned with the established, mainstream art world and found great creative energy within the art of the mentally challenged and those who created art on the fringes of culture and society. In 1945, he coined the term “Art Brut”, (or “raw art”) for these artists who were not conditioned by academic training, museums, and society about what art should look like. Dubuffet noted: “It may be that artistic creation, with all that it calls for in the way of free inventiveness, takes place at a higher pitch of tension in the nameless crowd of ordinary people than in the circles that think they have the monopoly of it. It may even be that art thrives in its healthiest form among these ordinary people, because practiced without applause or profit, for the maker’s own delight; and that the over-publicized activity of professionals produces merely a specious form of art, all too often watered down and doctored.”1

It should be noted that Jean Dubuffet was only one of many European avant-garde artists who looked for forms of expression outside of the academic tradition. His interest in self-taught painters was echoed by the Cubist interests in tribal art, and the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist interest in Japanese prints. Many of you may not be aware that Henri Rousseau, whose paintings you are most likely familiar with, was a self taught painter who caught the eye of the avant-garde, specifically Picasso. Henri Rousseau worked as a toll booth collector to earn a living. His coworkers, knowing his passion for art, and believing in the power of his work, used to let him leave work early so that he could work on a painting.

Now Rousseau is best considered as a naive painter, as opposed to brut. Naive painters are self-taught, but live within the bounds of culture and society. Brut painters know nothing of society, nor are they concerned with it. They simply paint their inner world.

Here at the gallery, it is our pleasure to present you with both naive and brut painters. We hope the worlds these artists create will both intrigue and delight you.

Thevoz, Michel Art Brut, Editions d’Art Albert Skira S.A., Geneva, 1995, p. 5.

(I will continue the discussion on European and American “Outsider” art in our next blog.)

Care and Feeding of Your Collection

On the Antiques Roadshow we are constantly frustrated by the lack of documentation in the objects we see. As viewers you hear the appraisers often discussing how a little documentation could mean a great deal in the ultimate value of the object. When Don Ellis appraised the Ute 1st phase chiefs blanket in Tucson we were told that the blanket had been handed down through the family from Kit Carson. Both Don and I believed this oral history but we had nothing to prove it. Had we been able to document this history we both agreed at a minimum this would have added another $100,000 to the estimate of $350,000 to $500,000. The point to all this is that the care and feeding of your collection is important and now easier than ever with the available technology. I have listed below a few simple things you can do that will pay big dividends for you and your family in the future.

1. If you don't have a digital camera, buy an inexpensive Canon or Sony ($200 and under) and photograph every object in the house. Take group shots of each room.

2. If you are computer savy, download these images to your computer and make some disks that you will store outside the house. If you are not computer savy, take your camera to a Kinkos and have them make a disk or put it on a USB thumb drive. The new thumb drives work great and make it very easy to add or delete data.

3. On this blog I have provided lots of information on finding an appraiser. Buy a few hours of time from a recognized appraiser and have them walk through the house to point out important objects, fakes, conservation issues, and range of values. Record it or take notes.

4. You probably won't do this one.. but sit down and write a short paragraph on all your important objects that were identified by the appraiser. Also put this info on your disk or thumb drive. In the event of a house fire, you do not want to store this data in the house.

5. Economic times are tough so insurance is an issue that each collector must address individually. I will say that major collections that are covered where premiums are based on appraised value should be re-assessed during economic downturns.

6. The greatest probability for loss is undoubtedly fire and breakage. Most good security systems have a fire alarm component; however, a great deal of damage can be done before the fire department is on scene. If the budget can handle it, a policy covering this type of loss is important.

Featured Folk Artist - Blacktop

Blacktop (Ken Gentle)
Alabama native Ken Gentle is a self-taught artist who began painting as a way of sharing his experiences of growing up in the South. In his multi-media paintings he uses water colors, chimney soot, enamels, and acrylics which typically start with a base of "black tar" on wood or cardboard (hence the moniker “Blacktop"). His style of using a mixture of found objects further complements the stories he tells.

My paintings and drawings are a process of storytelling - bringing and invoking the past and spirits into people and environments. They are also about a way of life, about the struggle of life and the events that have changed our lives. I focus on contemporary social and political issues which include the complexities of relationships. Rural southern scenes of people at work, old houses, churches, baptisms and the struggles of everyday life are my favorite subjects. I have a passion for telling the stories of growing up in the south where the simple pleasures of life are important and cherished."

My Process:

The process begins with a wood panel or cardboard; next I apply a thin layer of a tar mixture to the surface; a color tinted sealer (my mixture) is then applied next I apply the background color. When the surface has dried for a period of time I rough in the subject matter with several homemade tools. Next I apply the various levels of paint to surface; then remove some paint by scratching the color away so the black tar will show through. Once the painting is completed I apply a clear sealer. (The process has been heat tested to several hundred degrees with no affect on the painting.) For obvious reasons I cannot share the chemical combinations that I use to obtain my end product.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Charitable Donations - Who Will Keep Giving ?

United Jewish Communities differed with President Obama when they were quoted last spring as saying: “During the current economic downturn, which has forced nonprofits to do more with less, any proposal which would result in a decrease in private giving will be a disaster for America’s charities, and for those who depend upon them.” Specifically this umbrella organization for Jewish service charities is concerned that changes in the benefits donors currently receive will impact negatively on giving. Families in the 33% and 35% and making over $250,000 would only receive benefits currently enjoyed by those in the 28% bracket. In real numbers this means a reduction of taxes of $28,000 for every $100,000 donated instead of $35,000. Or to put it another way if a collector has paid more than $28,000 for a donated object that is appraised for $100,000, then he or she is losing money. While these changes wouldn't take effect until 2011 many non-profits are already getting hammered by reduced support due to the economic downturn. Previous blog entries have cited numerous institutions that have made significant staff cuts, delayed projects, cancelled projects, and generally tried to do more with less. Ironically President Obama has enjoyed significant support in the arts community in the past. These new measures could, regardless of an economic rebound ensure that funding problems continue far beyond any good news in general for the economy. With other proposed programs aimed at seeking additional taxes from the wealthy many non-profit fund raisers are nervous. Considering that many collectors who still have money are staying on the sidelines with many dealers and auction house reporting anywhere from 20 to 40 percent reduction in sales, it is logical to assume that the sidelines might be a bit more crowded for the next several years when it comes to giving as well.

What is it?

This object came in to the gallery for an appraisal. It appears to me to originate somewhere in Central or South America. The stone is similar to that found in the Atlantic Watershed area of Coast Rica. It is approximately 10" in height. Your comments would be welcome.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quick Takes July 2009

Antiques Roadshow has been wild as in late June and July we have traveled through Raleigh, North Carolina, Madison, Wisconsin, and Denver, Colorado. In Raleigh the Asian appraisers found the most expensive objects ever appraised on the show. The Chinese jade collection, which was appraised by Jimmy Callaghan of Skinner's, Boston was estimated at $700,000 and $1,700,000. Raleigh will be featured as the lead off show for Season's 14's schedule in early January of 2010.

In the June Newsletter we published the article "Whose Data Is It?" which was a description of two Guy Van Rijn databases that now are operated by the Yale Archive and Danster Research. I promised an update and some interviews. We contacted James Ross who is a major collector of African art and was responsible for much of the funding for the Yale Archive. Mr. Ross referred me to Jock Reynolds who is the director of the Yale University Art Gallery. We haven't heard back from Mr. Reynolds. The blog also contacted Guy Van Rijn, who indicated that there were some changes in the works at the Yale Archive but that he expected to continue in an advisory position. We will continue to pursue this.

August is almost upon us and it is the season of Indian market in Santa Fe. Dealers are excited and upbeat but wary about what this important two weeks will mean for business. It is all about whether people will stay away or if they do come will they keep their hands in their pockets. The Sweeney Covention Center has been remodeled, renamed and is ready to go for both the Ethnographic and Antique American Indian exhibitions. The schedule is as follows: The Ethnographic Art Show, the 26th annual staging, will run Saturday and Sunday, August 15 and 16, 2009 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with a preview opening on Friday, August 14, 2009 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.The 31st annual Antique Indian Art Show will have a preview opening on Monday, August 17, 2009 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, followed by shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 18 and 19, 2009 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There will also be auctions, local dealers, and collectors coming in for the contemporary Indian show August 22nd and 23rd. We will let you know how it goes.

ATADA (American tribal Art Dealers Association) does a very good job in listing stolen and recovered art objects. To ensure that you don't buy anything that doesn't have clear title periodically check this site: . Remember in the US being a good faith purchaser is not enough to protect you from losing the object and your money.

Recently another site was discovered in Northern Peru revealing the 1500 year old tomb of the the Lord of Ucupe. The figure was wearing two funerary masks, a necklace of silver medallions, and a tunic and train of metallic plates. In the tomb archaeologists also found 19 headdresses, on a bed of war clubs.

There some amazing museum exhibitions in the U.S. and and U.K this summer and fall. 1. British Museum, London Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler 24 September 2009 - 24 January 2010 2. Metropolitan Museum, New York: Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul 23 June 2009 - 20 September 2009 3. Metropolitan Museum, New York: A Legacy of Collecting: African and Oceanic Art (Barbier Mueller Coll, Geneva) 4.