Galerie St. Etienne
Parallel Visions II
The Galerie St. Etienne's principal exhibition of the spring season, Parallel Visions II: "Outsider" and "Insider" Art Today, explores the relationship between contemporary artists and their self-taught colleagues. In the years since the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented its original Parallel Visions exhibition in 1992, the boundaries between "outsider" and "insider" art have begun to blur. Many elements that once seemed exclusive to "outsider" art--obsessive repetition of form, a pop-culture frame of reference, the conjuring of fantastic alternative realities, crudeness of execution and the use of debased, non-art materials--have infiltrated the mainstream art world. Among those to be included in Parallel Visions II are Roger Ackling, Chelo Amezqua, Emery Blagdon, Sue Coe, Joseph Crepin, Henry Darger, Lucky de Bellevue, Steve di Benedetto, Hiroyuki Doi, Marcel Dzama, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Sam Gordon, Chris Hipkiss, Ray Johnson, Augustin Lesage, J.B. Murry, Michel Nedjar, Raymond Pettibon, James Siena, Martin Thomas, Adolf Wolfli, Anna Zemankova and Carlo Zinelli.
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Although a broad array of non-academic art--folk craft, amateur painting and art by the mentally ill--existed prior to the twentieth century, modernism was the first mainstream art movement to acknowledge self-taught art as a significant genre unto itself. Henri Rousseau, discovered by Picasso's circle in Paris prior to World War I, was the original "naif," a paragon of childlike innocence. After World War I, the Surrealists expanded their interest in self-taught art to include the work of mental patients, who they felt were able to access the elemental depths of the creative spirit. Surrealism in turn spawned the preeminent post-World-War-II champion of "outsiders," the artist Jean Dubuffet. Despairing of civilization, Dubuffet looked to its margins for hope and inspiration, which he found in the work of mental patients, spiritual mediums and extreme outcasts. In effect, Dubuffet melded the two pre-war conceptions of self-taught art, ascribing primordial innocence and purity to the work of social deviants.
Today's attitude toward self-taught art differs decisively from the earlier, modernist approach to the genre. Many elements that once seemed exclusive to "outsider" art--obsessive repetition of form, a pop-culture frame of reference, the conjuring of fantastic alternative realities, crudeness of execution and the use of debased, non-art materials--have infiltrated the mainstream art world. Whereas the modernists derived formal inspiration from self-taught art, trained artists today feel a kinship of content with the work of "outsiders" such as Henry Darger. Like Darger, Marcel Dzama explores adult issues of sexual aggression utilizing an iconography reminiscent of children's books. Artists as diverse as Roger Ackling, Emery Blagdon and Hiroyuki Doi have used art as a devotional, meditative or redemptive vehicle. Ritual and repetition inform the work of Joseph Crepin, Mary Temple, Martin Thompson and James Siena. Chris Hipkiss and Sue Coe share an interest in animal rights and environmental apocalypse, as well as common artistic influences. Yet Hipkiss is considered an "outsider," and Coe is not. Increasingly, it seems that the only difference between "insider" and "outsider" artists is the way they are labeled and marketed.
In tandem with globalization, postmodernism has engendered a far more heterogeneous approach to art-making. Artists are encouraged to take their inspiration from anything and everything that moves them, reaching back in time through all of art history, and absorbing more recent visual phenomena like cartoons, comics and film as well. Globalization has for the first time created a true "art world," assimilating artists and cultural traditions from all over. The minor detail of having gone, or not gone, to art school seems irrelevant when all the world's a school. The need to segregate "outsiders" by fixating on their biographies has become increasingly pointless. Although globalization has brought with it many ill effects, it is encouraging to think that the disintegration of the boundaries between "insiders" and "outsiders" reflects a broader recognition of the common humanity uniting disparate peoples.
Parallel Visions II: "Outsider" and "Insider" Art Today is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge by mail or can be down-loaded from our website www.gseart.com.