The summer issue of Cincinnati's online arts journal Aeqai contains a review of Thunder-Sky Inc.'s current exhibition "Hard Knocks." It's been exciting to see how the exhibition and Maria's text have spurred debate and discussion.
I'm disappointed then that more than a week has passed since I wrote a series of questions I posed Maria + the journal. Not only have they gone unanswered, but they have not even been posted.So I'm posting them here in the hopes that those locally, who are interested in the discussion and the topic of "outsiderness" in contemporary art can consider them. In particular, I wanted to bring these thoughts into a public space before the artist talk for the exhibition this Friday at the gallery.
Please see below.
Matt Morris says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
July 26th, 2011at 2:35 pm(#)
Maria, whether or not I’m a firm supporter of a project has nothing to do with whether or not I feel it is above criticism. On the contrary, if my friendship with Thunder-Sky does not come into my critique of how they execute exhibitions, my friendship with you also does not place your writing outside of my need for clarification or my desire to engage in a critique of the criticism. I’d like to think that my desire/demand for precision in efforts, both curatorial or critical, would extend in the same way into projects that I am not directly associated with (if Malton or Manifest attempted an exhibition in this vein for example).
I don’t think I’ve jumped to conclusions or interpretations in these questions. That it seems possible to read your ideas differently than you intended them is precisely why I think they need clarification. To that end, I must also have been unclear in my questions, because the driving points of what you are trying to say in this text continue to allude me.
Thank you for clarifying that you think the exhibition ignores the ways in which these artists are connected to the art world, whether or not they have degrees.
I don’t think I understand why that matters though.
Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if we are aware of any living artist who is a supposed ‘outsider’ then they are no longer living outside of mainstream contemporary culture or uninvolved with the art world? It’s why I brought up exhibitions like Gee’s Bend and Thorton Dial. In terms of art history, what is more “outsider art” than these people? And yet, they are in nationally touring exhibitions, selling work in Chelsea, and in the case of the quilts, public enough to have USPS postage stamps made of them. An “outsider artist” Cher Shaffer who I’ve collected work from in the past year has a credit card swipe at her art booth in fairs, and has sold to the rich and famous like Whoopi Goldberg. Are her mounted mainstream associations making her less of the ‘outsider’ she was when she got started? At a point when schools, public libraries, pay-by-the-month cellphones and internet cafes are all democratic access points to participating in the Internet (i.e., mainstream culture), who does still fit into the Grove definition you used?
Perhaps the only one I can readily think of is Henry Darger, since we did not know about his art until after he had died, and as a culture, we aren’t very interested in whether or not he would have wanted his work to be experienced in museums, coffee table books and documentaries.
If the artists at Thunder-Sky aren’t outsiders, then bring some to my attention who are (and my conjecture is that if you or I know about them, then they are no more outsider than anyone in the “Hard Knocks” exhibition). Or perhaps better, the term itself—no matter where we source its definition—may have lasted, as Keith said about the constructed narrative around Kevin White, beyond its usefulness.
It seems to me that this wasn’t a case of ignorance, as much as focusing on one lens. My experience of the work—and admittedly, I’ve read very little of the supporting texts related to the exhibition—suggests that there isn’t a claim of there being no involvement in mainstream or arts cultures, but more, it inquires into how these differences in involvement can be mapped outside of degree earning art academia. How does the art historian’s artmaking in private differ or bear similarities to the art hobbyist who runs a hair salon and runs with the elite jet set? What does an artist with no formal training in England have in common with or digress from someone from the American south?
I’m not asking that you “agree with every creative decision a gallery has made just because one might agree full heartedly with that gallery’s mission,” and projecting that kind of extremity onto my questions is unhelpful. My questions are not intended to drive you into agreement with what the gallery did. Truthfully, I have my own challenges with experiencing the exhibition. But if I bring them into this public space, I would hope to be as exacting in my critique as possible.
I am not struggling with your text because it could bruise some alliances I have in the arts or some precious definitions or curatorial inquiries I am invested in. I am following up in hopes that you’ll be as specific as possible about the issues you find in the exhibition, and ultimately what the problems the artists have addressed, the gallery has addressed or you have addressed MEAN. I mentioned a lack of resolution because beyond pointing out inconsistencies and problems in an exhibition, I hope that criticism will actually attempt to articulate those meanings so that we can collectively assess what has been accomplished. I have particular hopes in regards to the subject of “outsiderness” because I am completely skeptical that it exists beyond the language and scholarship that prolongs its supposed relevance.