Galerie St. Etienne
65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part II
The Galerie St. Etienne’s first show of the new year, 65TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION— PART II: Self-Taught Artists, features the work of André Bauchant, Camille Bombois, Henry Darger, Edward Hicks, John Kane, Morris Hirshfield, Grandma Moses, Ammi Phillips, Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor, Louis Vivin, Adolf Wölfli and others, many of them borrowed from leading private collections. The 65TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION is timed to coincide with the annual Outsider Art Fair, which will take place at New York's Puck Building from January 28 to 30.
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In 1939, when the Galerie St. Etienne was founded by Otto Kallir, there was a close connection between modernism and the work of self-taught artists. In the years just before World War I, artists such as Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky had championed Henri Rousseau, and after the war other artists with similar backgrounds—including Bauchant, Bombois and Vivin—won acclaim throughout Europe. Kallir, who had been forced to leave his original Vienna gallery after the Nazi annexation of Austria, was thus predisposed to appreciate America’s self-taught artists, and he felt they better expressed the potential of his newly adopted homeland than did the academic artists of the period. Although Kallir is best remembered for “discovering” Grandma Moses (who debuted at the Galerie St. Etienne in 1940), he exhibited a wide array of 19th century folk art as well. Twentieth-century American self-taught artists such as Hirshfield, Kane and Moses were also regularly shown at such mainstream institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s and early ‘40s. However, their work was largely eclipsed by the advent of Abstract Expressionism after World War II. It took the artist Jean Dubuffet, himself reacting against the dehumanizing effects of the war, to reignite interest in the field, first in Europe and much later in America. What Dubuffet called art brut—raw art, created outside the boundaries of received culture—eventually morphed into “outsider” art, a far looser category. In America over the course of the last thirty years, artists such as Darger, Ramirez and Traylor have won a broad-based following that extends well beyond the narrow perameters of the self-taught art field.
65TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION— PART II: Self-Taught Artists presents an opportunity to reexamine a field that is presently at a crossroads. Modernism provided a context for viewing the “other” that no longer exists in today’s pluralistic world. The “low” art influences that emerged in the work of self-taught artists from the 19th century onward—popular engravings, comic books, magazine illustrations and the like—are today happily welcomed into the arena of “high” art. And yet, at the same time, self-taught artists remain somewhat ghettoized: only a handful of the top artists are favored by mainstream collectors and institutions, and few mainstream players embrace the field as a whole. In looking at how the field evolved to its present state, the Galerie St. Etienne’s 65TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION raises important questions about the future of self-taught art.
The 65TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge by mail or can be down-loaded from the gallery’s website http://www.gseart.com.