Judith Scott, new record for an outsider artist

[26 Jan 2021]


Born with Down’s syndrome and both deaf and dumb, Judith Scott was a self-taught American artist who is today recognized internationally. Last week, Christie’s New York set a new auction record for her work.

Communicating with others only through touch, Judith SCOTT (1943-2005) started making art at the age of 44 at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California. In total she created more than two hundred extraordinary sculptures there, many looking like multicolored cocoons and endowed with a complex and spider-like textile network. Each “cocoon” is made up of heterogeneous objects collected, assembled, wrapped and entwined with threads, strings and cords so as to almost completely obscure the initial object. There is something magical about these enigmatic works, like African fetishes that enclose in their womb objects of secret power. Anthropomorphic, zoomorphic or organic at first, the sculptures gradually metamorphose, becoming more abstract over the years.

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Installation view of the work by Judith Scott at the 57th Venice Biennale on May 10, 2017


Scott’s work was noticed during her lifetime with a first exhibition and the publication of John MacGregor’s book (Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott) in 1999. At the beginning of the 2000s, her work gained a wider audience with a first European exhibition organized by Lucienne Peiry at the Musée de la Collection d’Art Brut in Lausanne (2001). In the 2010s her work was shown many times. In 2015 a retrospective organized by the Brooklyn Museum revealed her to the general public in New York. In Paris, her work were first shown at the Outsider Art fair, in an exhibition titled Inextricablia, magical entanglements at the Maison Rouge (2017) and then at the Art Paris fair. This presence at various fairs and exhibitions stimulated demand and her creations began to appear on the auction market. Early results were tentative with sales ranging between $20,000 and $35,000, but in 2019 an Untitled work evoking an overturned boot reached $47,500 at Christie’s in New York. Thereafter, demand accelerated with three works selling during 2020 (vs. only one in previous years).

At the start of 2021, Christie’s presented two sculptures by Judith Scott during its “Outsider and Vernacular Art” sale on 21 January: Untitled (Nest) which fetched $22,500 (excl. fees) and Untitled (Heart) which tripled its low estimate to reach $52,500 (excl. fees) substantially dwarfing the artist’s previous record!

For further discovery of her work

Judith Scott’s dense and moving work can be found in the permanent collections of lots of museums, including the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago (Intuit), the Aracine Collection, the Museum of Art Brut in Paris, the American Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (SFMOMA).
Three films have been made about her: Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott, by Betsy Bayha; ¿Qué tienes debajo del sombrero? (What’s under your hat?) by Lola Barrera and Iñaki Peñafiel, and Les cocons magiques de Judith Scott by Philippe Lespinasse. In 2009, Scott Ogden and Malcolm Hearn produced a documentary, Make, about the lives and techniques of Judith and three other artists. These films bear witness to the interest that has been focused as much on her unique practice as on her entire life.

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Installation view of a work by Judith Scott at the 57th Venice Biennale on May 10, 2017