Outsider Art Fair Offers Roadmap for Safe Events in 2021
New York City’s Outsider Art Fair persevered this month despite both the ongoing pandemic and torrential snowfall. The event wrapped up last Sunday and, despite being dealt a bad hand, still managed to set a strong precedent for holding a socially-distanced art fair in 2021.
The in-person component of the Outsider Art Fair was split between four galleries and a studio. Several of the venues’ shows offered a cohesive look at outsider artists despite the restraints placed on them by the pandemic. That included “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” at Shin Gallery. The show’s theme was Black voices in outsider art. Several standout pieces came from the late Memphis artist Hawkins Bolden. His sculptures combine unconventional materials, including rusted chairs and hubcaps.
Each venue contained exemplary pieces but some lacked cohesion. One such show was “To Be Human,” hosted by Hirschl & Adler Galleries. The New York Times‘ Will Heinrich cited the show’s vague theme of “the figure” as its biggest downfall. Individual works, such as Vera Girivi’s untitled nude portraits, gathered praise nonetheless. These less successful events are a reminder not only of pandemic-induced limitations, but also how difficult it is to place outsider art into neatly-defined categories.
Even shows that did not earn high marks from visitors still brought much-needed business to their hosting galleries. Thomas Parker, the associate director of Hirschl & Adler, told Artnet News that the gallery enjoyed 75 guests per day during the fair. Some fairgoers even stayed and purchased a work or two before heading to the next venue.
Meanwhile, online galleries offered a virtual tour of the event for art patrons around the world. The viewing rooms also proved helpful when a snowstorm hit New York City during the fair’s opening weekend. Organizers and gallery owners were able to direct fairgoers online when they couldn’t go outside. This was another early sign that the online infrastructure built up during the pandemic will come in handy even after the virus is no longer a concern.
In a category as broad as outsider art, the expanded online viewing rooms also gave opportunities to a more diverse group of artists. Miami’s Art Code Space, for example, offered a look at Cuban outsider art in the online rooms. Among the artists they showcased was Isaac Crespo, whose drawings often feature clowns who are more nefarious than they are playful.
The Outsider Art Fair provides a helpful roadmap for other fairs hoping to organize safe events in 2021. Using four separate galleries and a studio to host the shows helped keep occupancy relatively low at each venue. Any pieces fair organizers couldn’t incorporate into one of the five venues still had a place in the online viewing rooms.
This is all good news for the art world, which depends heavily on such in-person events. Auction Daily recently spoke with art advisor Elisa Carollo about how important these fairs are to the community. “The art world is fundamentally a people-based business, predominantly made of encounters, exchanges, and relations,” says Carollo. “Also, for many involved in the global contemporary art scene, attending fairs and events has become part of their lifestyle. They won’t easily give that up.”
Auction Daily will continue covering the successes and setbacks of art fairs throughout the year.
Interested in learning more about outsider art? Auction Daily recently explored the category’s history and noteworthy sales.