Creative Growth Featured | BrutForce | January 2017

Imagined Spaces at the 2017 Outsider Art Fair By Brendan McHugh and Ani Kodjabasheva January 31, 2017

On a late Sunday morning, the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan is busy with excitement and a mild sense of urgency. It is the last day of the 2017 Outsider Art Fair, and the opportunities to see old favorites or discover something new are waning–until next year. With sixty-two exhibitors, this is the event’s biggest iteration so far. There is a lot to take in, and the crowd only grows denser throughout the day.

Artists who made their debut at the fair in previous years, some now among the ‘classics’ of outsider art, share walls with newcomers. As we wander around the space, pushed along by the crowds, the exhibitors’ booths reveal their treasures: a Martin Ramirez or Adolf Wölfli; Domenico Zindato’s rhythmic patterns and Hiroyuki Doi’s circles; M’onma‘s nightmarish clown masks and Gil Batle’s carved eggs. It is a walk through memory, with fortuitous surprises along the way. Keep your feet nimble and your mind focused, as it will be a long journey.

A brochure for the fair invites us to see our visit as a “road trip” across the United States and beyond, as we discover local artists along the way. The idea of travel is not just a metaphor: if any single theme emerges from this year’s fair, for us it is architectural and map-like images. Many artworks explore space and place, and create the illusion of being transported to some real or imagined location.

According to Tom di Maria, the director of Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, viewers love outsider art precisely because it creates an alternative realm with its own rules for the viewer to journey into. At the panel “From Obscurity to Prominence: The Discovery and Stewardship of Outsider Art,” held in association with the fair, di Maria said that artists at Creative Growth are “privileged” to live in a “little bubble.” They inhabit a world of their own making, where they are beholden only to their imagination. And we, the public, are privileged to be their fellow travelers, and that was the spirit we took with us upon attending the fair.

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