Thomas Roske on Curating Outsider Art

Continuing with our report on the European Outsider Art Association’s annual conference this year in Paris, this blog post will cover Thomas Roske’s introduction to curating Outsider Art.

galerie gugging

Roske started his presentation by looking at the past year or so; beginning with Massimiliano Gioni’s Encyclopaedic Palace at 2013’s Venice Biennale. He spoke about the exhibitions at the Collection de L’Art Brut in Lausanne, where the work is displayed on a black background, which already has underlying connotations. In comparison, Galerie Gugging in Austria presents work in a ‘white cube’ format. This, Roske suggested, gives a clinical feel to the displays, particularly in a hospital environment.

Colour is very important when looking at works, and Roske emphasised the importance of the wall colour. At the Prinzhorn Collection (where Roske is the Director), coloured walls are used to evoke different atmospheres. For example, they have chosen blue before to represent the colour of the spirit.

Roske reiterated that we cannot always use the contemporary format when displaying Outsider art. He used three exhibitions of the work of Miroslav Tichy as an example here; one at Frankfurt am Main, one at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt and one at the Prinzhorn Collection. One showed the works in long rows; each about five photographs deep. Roske claimed that this made it difficult to look at any one work in isolation; the set up and hanging itself had become the art work. In another of the three, the works were exhibited on white walls in large frames, with plenty of space between each piece. This, Roske suggested, eliminated the personality of the artist. He added that the messages that Outsider Art conveys so strongly can be lost if the work is presented in a uniform, contemporary way. At the Prinzhorn Collection, the work had been exhibited covered in glass cut precisely to the shape of the photograph, avoiding drawing the eye away from the artwork itself.

A Vanda Vieira-Schmidt installation

A Vanda Vieira-Schmidt installation

Roske also talked about Vanda Vieira-Schmidt; a hugely prolific artist known to produce up to one thousand new pieces of work a day. When exhibiting Vieira-Schmidt’s work, Roske was mindful of wanting to convey her huge output. For an exhibition at the Prinzhorn Collection, he stacked piles and piles of papers up around a table and chair for support. This exhibition, he said, successfully communicated the scale of Vieira-Schmidt’s practice, as well as the personality and atmosphere of the artist. Her work has been shown in this format in many different venues, and is now a permanent exhibit at the German Military History Museum which reflects the content of Vieira-Schmidt’s work; world peace.

So, the question here seems to be: can you just take one curatorial formula and apply it to everything? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. 

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  1. Julia Oak

    Curating the work frequently changes the reference of the work, each exhibition needs to be dealt with on its own.
    Curators are either outside the art work presenting it for a third party to view or they are a collaborator with the artists, becoming part artist themselves. Trends have it that the curator is publicised and critiqued as much as the artist’s work they are presenting. Should any artist be handing their work over to curators to become toys for the curator to play with in a white cube playpen?
    They beauty of Outsider Art is that it does not follow a formula, it is refreshing and ‘Real’. Curating should reflect this!

  2. John Jennings

    Well of course you can but it will have to be exceptionally elastic. The problem of once having transposed an artwork from where it was made into an exhibition space is likely to change it for ever in respect of the artists intent however you try to dress up the venue. It has to result in a tableau of some kind which is disingenuous, however well meaning. So what can a curator do? Can he/her be in league with the artist and enter that enigmatic world and yet not add to or take away from the works themselves. I don`t think so. Can she/he be a conductor, a conduit for the current of the art to move naturally into public view? Perhaps. Or maybe the curator as Ringmaster setting the tone and pace,introducing the acts but not interfering in them.
    The thing that is niggling me is the one that says, once a work of art is finished it`s out there…it`s gone. The artist is busy creating the next one. I think curators have had to become more responsive in what ever way they can to present the work of others, I`m thinking in particular of Harold Szeeman who many considered an artist of curating in his own right. And why not? I think the curator should be free to have their own voice and should be as playful with the materials they are given (the artefacts) as was the artist. Creativity dousn`t stop when a work of art is done. It moves on.

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