Art Brut: its Biennial, its market…

[08 Apr 2014]


The Art Brut collection in Lausanne was the first of its kind and is today the largest collection of “Outsider Art” in the world, making Lausanne the de facto capital of Outsider Art.Lausanne museum decided to launch a series of Biennial shows, the first of which (Vehicles, 8 November 2013 – 27 April 2014) presents 200 carefully selected works from the museum’s collection of no less than 60,000 works by more than 400 artists. Generally speaking, the works of the world’s most famous “Outsider” artists, like Séraphine DE SENLIS, Louis SOUTTER, Gaston CHAISSAC and Adolf WÖLFLI , are still rare commodities at the major prestige auction sales and the market for Art Brut is still tiny compared with other segments of the Modern art market. Nevertheless, it is currently expanding at a rapid pace and is also becoming much more structured.

Emergence and acceptance of Art Brut

At the semantic level, Art Brut theorists prefer to use the term “author” (auteur in French) rather than “artist” in order to distinguish Outsider Art from mainstream “institutionalized” artistic creation. Art Brut “authors” are thus self-taught creators, often living reclusive lives, uninfluenced by any of the artistic movements of their era. Their techniques are as varied as the themes they work on, although they frequently express various kinds of “obsessive” mental conditions. Highlighted by André Breton in 1924, the term “Art Brut” was coined in 1945 by Jean Dubuffet and it elevated to the rank of “artworks” creations previously considered manifestations of psychological disorders or creations by profoundly isolated and introspective artists. The first Parisian exhibition to focus on this type of art took place in 1967 at the Museum of Decorative Arts with an exhibition entitled “Art Brut”. Nine years later, the Collection of Art Brut in Lausanne was inaugurated.

In the past, works by artists relegated to the margins of creation and branded under the Art Brut label were seldom integrated into major Contemporary Art fairs like the Venice Biennale and Art Basel. However, in recent years, a number of exhibitions (in France, at the Maison Rouge, the Palais de Tokyo, via the Museum of Everything) and art fairs have broadened the scope of their artistic vision and have decided to project Art Brut to the forefront of the cultural scene. Art Brut’s penetration of the mainstream art market was a fragmented process occurring through fairs like Art Paris, Drawing Now Paris, and a few ‘offs’ in Miami. As demand increased, these works gained their “right of citizenship” at increasingly prestigious events such as the Venice Biennale, which hosted “Outsider Art” in its 2013 edition, by reference to the Encyclopedic Palace created by Marino Auriti, a self-taught artist and laborer. Elsewhere, “outsider” creations are increasingly presented at the world’s largest art fairs such as the FIAC in Paris and the Frieze in London and New York.

Today, Art Brut creations are commercially available in an ever-expanding geographical area, as if mainstream Contemporary art was in need of a breath of fresh air and the market has no problem with the obvious irony of art created independently of any commercial logic being the subject of major auction sales.

Less confined to the shadows of the Art Market

The primary marketplaces to acquire Art Brut works are Bern, Zurich, Paris, New York and also, to a lesser extent, Chicago, Cologne and Berlin. In recent years, auction companies have included Outsiders in both Modern and Contemporary sales, thereby putting these artists on an equal footing with “mainstream” artists. However, because they still rare, some Art Brut signatures fetch prices reaching into six figures and new records are being set all the time, as illustrated by the following figures:

Bill TRAYLOR (1854-1947)
New record set in 2014 for drawing Man with a Plow which fetched $300,000, double its estimate, New York ($365,000 including fees, Sotheby’s). The same work sold for $160,000 on 3 December 1997 (at Sotheby’s in New York).

Henry J. DARGER (1892-1973)
Auction record set in 2013 in Paris for the drawing Tornado I/Tornado II/Tornado III (1958) which fetched $165,636 (€120,000), at Christie’s.
His price index has doubled in 10 years. Some of his drawings acquired for around $30,000 in 2003 are now worth more than $150,000.

Adolf WÖLFLI (1864-1930)
Auction record dates back to 2011 for a 1916 drawing entitled Die heilige Erittera: Gross=Gross=Göttin $123,375 (CHF 105,000)at Kornfeld in Bern.
Sold mainly in Switzerland (Zurich, Bern) and in Paris, his colored crayon drawings can be acquired at auctions for between $15,000 and $30,000.

Louis SOUTTER (1871-1942)
Record set in 2007 for his India ink drawing “Un chat à mort»/«Elysée»” which fetched $267,444 (€180,000 at Lempertz in Cologne).
His market divided between Switzerland (83% of auction turnover) and Germany (16%).

Martin RAMIREZ (1895-1963)
Auction record set in 2013 in Paris with a mixed-technique that fetched the equivalent of $217,889 (€170,000 at Cornette de Saint Cyr). His previous record was $110,000 in New York in 2011 (Untitled (Madonna), Sotheby’s).

Séraphine DE SENLIS (1864-1942)
Auction record set in 2012 for an oil on canvas “Apple trees” that fetched $263,046 in Paris (€210,000 at Artcurial).

Aloise CORBAZ (1886-1964)
Record set in 2005 for a series of 13 drawings which sold for $73,206 (€61,000 at Charbonneaux in Paris).
Sold mainly in Switzerland (Zurich, Bern) and Paris. Some drawings are still available for less than $10,000.

Gaston CHAISSAC (1910-1964)
Record set in 2007 with Le locataire du premier that fetched nearly $400,000 including fees in Paris (€250,000 at the hammer, nearly €300,000 including fees, Artcurial).

Most of the artists presented in the context of the first Biennial of Art Brut in Lausanne have some kind of an auction history. This is particularly the case for Hidenori Motooka , Willem Van Genk and Auguste Forestier. Others are particularly affordable, like the Austrian Franz KERNBEIS whose drawings change hands for around $2,500.