Bill Traylor Essay in Raw Vision 82

My essay on self-taught artist Bill Traylor is featured in the upcoming issue of Raw Vision! So many fantastic scholars have looked at Traylor’s art, and my article considers some of the recent and upcoming approaches to understanding his life and work.

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the spreads:

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On the 2014 Armory Show

Holland Cotter’s recent review of the Whitney Biennial included a line that stuck with me: “I left feeling pretty much the way I do when I leave an art fair, full but empty, tired of dessert, hungry for a sustained and sustaining meal.”

I usually feel a little empty after art fairs. As though–to borrow a statement from Sherlock Holmes (and a concept from dear friend and author Maria Konnikova)–I’ve seen but not observed the objects or experiences around me. The Armory Show is consistently one of the most overwhelming fairs I attend. And sheer numbers make it hard to see art: the number of visitors, number of galleries, and number of different artworks on view all conspire to draw attention away from any individual object.

This year, I left the Armory Show exhausted and frustrated. I could barely edge through the crowds at Pier 94, let alone look at objects.

A few days later, with some time to digest, I realized that this frustration was trumped by some other, more lasting impressions.

Art fairs are terribly important for the art world and for galleries. They can connect clients and dealers, promote previously-unknown artists, and show the state of a particular art world at a given time. For me, art fairs are important because they make me hungry: for information, for understanding of artists I may not have previously encountered, and for in-depth viewing of individual objects away from the buzz of these dynamic and electric venues. They make me appreciate quiet time in a museum or gallery, standing face-to-face with an artwork. While Cotter’s “full but empty” statement speaks to the immediate aftermath of the show, the “hunger for a sustaining meal” can and should be the far more powerful–and far reaching–outcome.

With that, here are some snapshots of favorite artworks from the Armory Show:

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Nick Cave Soundsuits at Jack Shainman

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David Scher at Pierogi Gallery

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Michelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Repetto

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George Widener at Ricco/Maresca Gallery

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Sol LeWitt and the Philadelphia Wireman at Fleisher Ollman Gallery

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Thornton Dial at Andrew Edlin Gallery

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Alice Neel at Aurel Scheibler

The Metro Show and Conversations on Collecting

The annual Metro Show took place in NYC this past weekend. Still not sure of its overall identity, the fair hosted more than 35 dealers with a variety of specialties. Objects on view ranged from works of “old master” American outsider art, to Asian ceramics, to whittled walking sticks; each booth was its own microcosm of the art world. A few views (in the form of my less-than-stellar snapshots!):

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American Primitive Gallery’s display, which included stone carving, walking sticks, and works by collector and artist Mike Noland.

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Cavin Morris Gallery showed a range of ceramics, as well as works on paper by self-taught visionary artists.

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Ricco Maresca Gallery included some late works by Martín Ramírez alongside pieces by Bill Traylor.

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Susan Baerwald, of Just Folk Gallery, discussing Bill Traylor, the focus of their booth this year.

The portion of the weekend I was most involved in, however, was the series of lectures and panels that accompanied the art fair. Organized by Randall Morris, of Cavin Morris Gallery, this two-day conference included lectures by scholars, panels of curators, and talks by collectors. I participated in the panel “Life After Venice,” which considered the relevance and benefits of exhibiting works by mainstream and self-taught artists together, alongside fabulous curators Lynne Cooke, Massimiliano Gioni, and Leslie Umberger, and brilliant scholar and dealer Randall Morris. I also gave a lecture about the collection of outsider and vernacular art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Here’s a snapshot of me during my talk (thanks Maria!).

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And one of Randall Morris introducing the event.

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One of my favorite parts of the weekend was listening to John Foster talk about how he became a collector (seen in the above image). He believes that a collection need not be expensive to be important, and that objects of all types–and market values–should live happily together. I was particularly struck by the fact that he sees the world as a constant series of aesthetic explorations. He’s the sort of collector I aim to be, and aim to nurture!

Outsider Art and Americana at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

We are in the midst of Americana week in NYC, and that means some fabulous offerings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. A few of my favorite objects in the upcoming sales:

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Three fantastic Bill Traylor works at Sotheby’s. I’m partial to the man with a cane (on the right)–I love the off-center placement of the figure on the card.

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Another, quite different offering at Sotheby’s: an early-19th-century manuscript booklet from Pennsylvania. What a spectacular “Rattle Snake” with legs!

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A delectable Justin McCarthy at Christie’s. I’m not usually a fan of this artist’s work, but the colors and textures on this piece really show how McCarthy internalized Impressionist ideas and made them his own.

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Again at Christie’s: two divine works by Sister Gertrude Morgan, representing the prophet Elijah (top) and New Jerusalem (bottom). Both demonstrate Morgan’s ability to combine religious messages with contemporary secular imagery and fantastical elements (An apartment complex surrounded by angels? Pretty fab!).

While I don’t believe that works by self-taught artists, including Traylor, McCarthy, and Morgan, should be considered “Americana,” I do believe that good art can hold its own in any number of settings. Pennsylvania German earthenware plates can live next to Bill Traylor’s modernist drawings. Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Elijah can hold interesting conversations with Chippendale tea tables.

UPDATE: The auctions went brilliantly! Works by well known outsider artists far surpassed estimates, showing that self-taught artists, and outsider art, really do have a place in the art world. The Bill Traylor works at Sotheby’s (pictured above in the original post) did especially well: the central piece, “Man with a Plow,” sold for $365,000 (inc. buyer’s fee), far above the projected 125,000-175,000. At Christie’s, a standout work was William Edmondson’s “Mother and Child,” which went for $263,000 (inc. fee). Its estimate was only 50,000-80,000. For complete auction results, check out the auction pages at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.