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Inside the Outsider Art Fair

We went to the fair that celebrates self-taught artists.
Photo by Noah Emrich

This past weekend marked the 24th annual Outsider Art Fair. In its largest edition to date, the fair brought together 65 galleries and organizations from 33 cities around the world to the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea. On the surface, the Outsider Art Fair looks like your typical art fair, stark white booths buzzing with people with cameras, art being sold, coffee being served, but when when you stop by the booths and talk with people, you quickly realizes it’s far from an Armory or a Frieze.


The main condition for showing work at the Outsider Art Fair is that the artist must be self taught—no BFA, no MFA. This criteria over the years has drawn a plethora of different work and artists, international and New York-based.

According to the Outsider Art Fair, the term, ‘outsider art’ was originally coined by the French artist and curator, Jean Dubuffet, who once said, “We understand by this term works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part (contrary to the activities of intellectuals). These artists derive everything… from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.”

When talking about the work that were present, instead of first speaking about the artist’s education, their stories and interests came front and center, making for a refreshing art viewing experience. Many of the gallerists were approachable and excited to talk about the work that they were showing. For example, through working with common materials such as cardboard and Sharpie, Daniel Green uses lists of addresses, dates, and names to playfully explore popular culture. He showed with the organization Creativity Explored, a San Francisco-based non-profit arts organization that works with artists with developmental disabilities. Susan Brown uses acrylic and Sharpie to paint her family by memory in various outfits, and she showed with Pure Visions Arts, a nonprofit studio in New York City. Gaspard Maîterpierre, who showed with the Parisian gallery Galerie l'Inlassable, uses gold leafing on his daily objects to explore vices, conspiracies, and individual mythology. The diversity of artists supported by the various galleries, organizations and studios made the Outsider Art Fair truly a standout amongst the many other art fairs.


The Outsider Art Fair was founded by Sandy Smith in 1993 as a parallel place to showcase work that was “outside the critical mainstream.” Then, in 2012 it was acquired by the Wide Open Arts organization, which relocated the fair from New York’s Puc Building in Nolita to Chelsea. What was once a very folky art fair has since transformed into a fair that skirts gracefully between outsider art world and the New York art world mainstream.


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