Outsider Art in the Art Market

On Friday 24 July, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) organised a panel discussion for the first time looking at the field of Outsider Art. Titled ‘Outsider Art in the Art Market,’ the talk was part of a wider series taking place at the RA.

The full panel

The full panel

The panel was chaired by the Editor of Raw Vision magazine John Maizels, and featured Thomas Roeske, Director of the Prinzhorn Collection; Marc Steene, Director of Pallant House Gallery and Founder of Outside In; Jane England, Director of England & Co Gallery and Ian Sherman, an artist associated with the Outside In project. The point of bringing them together was to consider the inclusion of Outsider Art in the commercial art market and the impact this has on artists, collectors and collections.

The panel started by discussing what they thought Outsider Art meant today, touching very briefly on the Joseph Cornell exhibition and whether he could be classified as an Outsider Artist. It was suggested that had his art been found after his death then it may have been a different story, but that he most likely could not be called an Outsider Artist under the traditional description, originally outlined by Jean Dubuffet.

Ian Sherman - The Comedian assemblage

Ian Sherman – The Comedian assemblage

Marc Steene spoke quite extensively about how it is wrong to collectivise a group of artists by their ‘difference’, adding, “There is not a commonality in their work.” John followed this by saying that “With Outsider Art, each artist is like an art movement of one person,” again referencing how difficult it is to place all these stylistically diverse artists under one umbrella term.

Ian sat on the panel as an artist who is often classed as an Outsider Artist. He said that in the beginning he would make work for himself before destroying it. However, over the years he started to wonder what the point was in making work if others were not going to see it. He now makes work without an interest in the boxes other people put him in; he feels that he doesn’t conform to any style and is unaffected by the opinion of others in relation to his art.

Ian Sherman - The Poet assemblage

Ian Sherman – The Poet assemblage

Ian said of his involvement: “Taking part in a debate at the Royal Academy was a new experience for me and something that needed thought and concentration. The other four participants were known specialists. Related to the current Joseph Cornell exhibition, I needed to increase my knowledge about this artist, who was the starting point for further discussions. The actual ‘hour’ arrived and seemed to pass very quickly. After all the thinking, I spoke instinctively and eventually had a sense of spontaneity. An interesting question for me was that of categorisation and how do I find myself with ‘Outside In’? I feel that one the project’s strengths is support for the ‘uncategoriseable’.”

Ian also spoke very animatedly about something which I think many artists can relate to: the ‘sheer magic’ of waking at three in the morning with a title for a piece of work, rushing to find some paper to scribble it down on.

There was then a discussion around biographical stories being the ‘selling point’ for Outsider Art, particularly with collectors, despite this not being something that happens in the mainstream art world. The panel considered how we might begin to move away from this so that the work is valued on a more aesthetic level.

The panel spoke about whether the inclusion of Outsider Art in the mainstream art world would affect the core of it. Thomas mentioned that Outsider Art has special features that could potentially be lost if it was welcomed into the mainstream. However, he went on to say that he hoped its inclusion would change the way we all looked at art more generally. Thomas also mentioned that the growing interest in Outsider Art stems from people wanting something new and something different and that curators need to work with this art more to understand the raw essence of it.

The discussion was very interesting, and more time for questions would have been ideal. It was really useful to have this conversation around Outsider Art moving more firmly into the mainstream art market and we hope that more of these conversations continue to happen.

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