“Outsider” art in Paris and Brussels

[03 Apr 2013]


While Art Paris Art Fair (28 March – 1 April 2013) occupied the Grand Palais with 144 galleries from 20 countries presenting the most currently popular names in Modern and Contemporary art, a very different exhibition was drawing to an extended close (last day: 31 March) a short distance away in Boulevard Raspail: the Museum of Everything was a travelling exhibition (already presented in London, Moscow and Turin) devoted to so-called “Outsider” artists. Defined as the traveling museum for artists who create without intention, without education and without celebration, it was organized by Marc-Olivier Walher (ex-Director of the Palais de Tokyo), and presented around fifty artists including a large number of complete unknowns and a host of exceptional recognised “Outsiders” like Henry J. DARGER, Aloise CORBAZ and George WIDENER.

In France, these artists, relegated to the margins of Modern and Contemporary art, are branded under the Art Brut label. Although this type of work is absent from major international Contemporary art fairs like the Venice Biennale and Art Basel, in recent years, a small number of unspecialized exhibitions (at La Maison Rouge and at the Palais de Tokyo) and art fairs (Art Paris, Drawing Now and Miami off shows) have broadened their artistic scope by inviting Art Brut onto the front of the cultural scene.

In fact, this type of work free from intellectual dogmatism and fashion effects increasingly changes hands at auction. This was the case for example at the 28-29 March sale at Cornette de Saint Cyr in Brussels (Contemporary Art & Art Brut). The sale started with some classic Contemporary signatures (Hans Hartung, Jean Fautrier, Niki de Saint Phalle, Fernando Botero, Yves Klein, Sophie Calle, etc.) and then rolled out some of the best creators of Art Brut: Gaston Chaissac, Henry Darger, Augustin Lesage, Scottie Wilson and Zinelli Carlo. The last lots of the sale were reserved for Philippe Pasqua, Georges Mathieu and Serge Charchoune.

Once freed from complete anonymity, these artists have seen their auction prices double, triple and even rise tenfold in less than ten years. For the auction companies, the leaders of this genre are Henry Darger (star lot of the Cornette de Saint Cyr sale on 29 March 2013 with At Angeline Junction and Strangle, a double-sided work estimated €120,000 – €180,000), Séraphine DE SENLIS (record equivalent to $263,046 with Pommier, an oil on canvas that sold on 30 May 2012 at Artcurial Paris), Bill TRAYLOR (auction record of $180,000 with Man with Yoke at a January 2001 sale at Sotheby’s New York) and Adolf WÖLFLI, who crossed the $100,000 threshold in 2011 with a drawing entitled Die heilige Erittera: Gross=Gross=Göttin that fetched the equivalent of $123,000 (17 June 2011, Kornfeld in Bern).

Originally, the creation of these artists were not generally intended to be sold, which explains why the auction market is so often meagre or even non-existent for some of these alternative signatures (as is indeed still the case for George WIDENER, a prolific and fascinating artist).