Friday, October 9, 2009

A great opportunity

Kay Drabsch - Untitled

Arts-access SA and Graysonline are offering for the first time the opportunity to bid for their renowned low reserve auction a-frame, on-line.
It is one of the best occasions to bid for some of the most remarkable works produced by people enabled by the activity of this great organisation.
It is a terrific opportunity to own a piece of art made with passion and love, help some wonderful artists and their supporting organisation.
Here are the links:
Please, don't miss out!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A note from the Head of Painting at the University of South Australia

Outside Margins

When I was asked to consider writing an opening address for this Global Highbeam Visual Arts Exhibition, I couldn’t resist – despite the discomfort I usually feel in public speaking. Very quickly, a theme of marginalisation emerged. It seemed appropriate, because Arts Access has admirably defined itself as a vehicle and bastion in support of artists with disability. The struggle against marginalisation demands highlighting. It is something so obviously important, and something we can all relate to.
Artists can be marginalised by many things, and for those with a disability this problem is of course amplified. Consider for example, racism, sexism, ageism, poverty, etc... And what about isolation?

For many of my formative years, I lived in London. I knew no visual artists. The art scene seemed an elitist and impenetrable world. I didn’t even want to use the words ‘art’ or ‘artist’. Perhaps this attitude represented a lack of confidence. Without access and encouragement, it was many years before I felt that I had something to share and say to others.

In this exhibition, all of the artists have something to say.

The most artistic acquaintances I knew in those days were Rock and Roll musicians! And it occurs to me that Rock and Roll itself was marginalised in relation to ‘Serious Music’. To a minority, perhaps it still is. The inventors and forerunners of American Rock and Roll were the black Blues men and women of the early twentieth century. It is worth noting that many of the most famous and inventive Blues artists were blind. Vocations were limited if you were blind, black and poor. Initially, racism restricted the audiences … the Blues was considered too ‘primitive’ for sensitive white ears. That changed. Today their genius is universally recognised. Rock and Roll might be outside of ‘serious music’ but it has achieved a diverse vision and popular voice.

I believe there is a lesson in this…

At first, the term ‘Outsider art’ seems inadequate… and especially here, to describe such a diverse and sophisticated exhibition.
Where did the idea of ‘Outsider Art’ come from? The British writer Roger Cardinal coined the term in the early 1970s.The artist and collector Jean Dubuffet used ‘Art Brut’ or Raw Art in the post war period. Dubuffet wanted to affirm art by the self taught, by intuitives and outsiders. Always the artistic anarchist, he quickly came to see ‘official art’, as he called it, as stifling and contrived by comparison. In the 1940s, when Dubuffet’s collection reached thousands of pieces, he offered it to the French people, through their government, on condition that a building could be provided as a museum. The French government said No! But Switzerland said Yes! Dubuffet’s collection formed the basis of the now huge and internationally renowned Art Brut Collection in Lausanne.

The ‘Outsider’ tag seems to have stuck. In fact, it would seem to have
been reclaimed as a badge of distinction.

The word ‘Outsider’ suggests something outside of a boundary -a boundary that defines what is inside and what is not. In reality, I do not believe that art has such boundaries. These days, ‘Outsider Art’ has become a generic term - incorporating not only artists with mental, intellectual or physical disabilities, but also embracing folk artists, ‘intuitives’, na├»ve and other visionary artists - across cultures. Outsider art is certainly not peripheral. It is genuinely multicultural. The margin, in fact, has become a reservoir that ‘mainstream’ art has drawn for inspiration - to re-invent, to redefine and challenge itself… and even to contradict.

The reason that many ‘mainstream’ artists and art theorists admire Outsider art is because there is usually a kind of purity… of motivation. Many Outsider artists make art regardless of a marketplace, or compulsively, because they can’t help it, or because they must, because it’s therapeutic or self satisfying, or simply because it’s fun.

The idea of the ‘Mainstream’ itself is problematic. So-called ‘Official art’ – the self conscious expression of the sensitive and culturally aware ‘Individual’ is often subject to exploitation and distortion for materialistic, nationalistic and ethnocentric purposes. Mainstream implies that art is a centralised thing, definable by certain characteristics – a recognisable set of rules that could represent an ideal for cultural activity. The truth is that Idealism is not a recipe for originality…

For example, formal drawing skill can be achieved with practice, persistence and time. By refining eye/ hand coordination, a traditional artist can produce an image that is comparable to a photograph.
…But people are not machines. It is our responses to accident and acceptance of the unpredictable that can define our humanity much more than mechanical perfection. What kind of skill can it be, that challenges our presumptions?

Take Jackson Pollock – Pollock succeeded in redefining painting practice by using his whole body. Drips and accidents become integral to his technique. In traditional painting, technique is centred on the hand – In Pollock’s work, body, shoulder and elbow gestures signify an unprecedented quality in the history of painting:

Originality comes from difference.

Idealism, however, can sometimes lead to totalitarianism.
Many of the great pre-war artists represented in the present day
Outsider collections in Europe were murdered by Nazi idealists.
Inspired by the spontaneity and vibrancy of these ‘Outsiders’, many
German Expressionist artists of the time suffered similar fates –
Others were labeled ‘degenerate’ by association and were forced into poverty or exile.

One of the German Expressionists, who lived to see fame and fortune as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, was Paul Klee. In 1920, after visiting the now famous Prinzhorn collection of Outsider art in Heidelberg, a German art historian wrote how ‘Klee-like’ some of the works were. Recent research has revealed that Klee himself had visited the Prinzhorn collection in 1906!
History can now see Klee’s genius in a clearer light… and I’m sure he would approve.

Invariably, the most important artists are those whose work
consciously or innocently challenges the rules. It seems to me, that
Many artists of the past who are now admired for the sublime beauty of their work, and their audacious originality were considered Outsiders in their time.

The most well known example is Van Gogh - a difficult, abject and lonely artist, rejected even by his peers… In his lifetime he never sold a single painting. Even his contemporary Cezanne – the inspiration to cubism - whose paintings at the time were seen as crude insults to the conventions of painting, considered Van Gogh’s work to be the product of ‘a madman’… Today, a single Van Gogh painting can sell for a hundreds of million dollars!

Take heart and persevere! In our time, artists with disabilities are achieving fame and respect in their own lifetimes.

No one would question the importance of the well known Australian artist Mike Parr. Parr lost his arm as a child. He works in many media – drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film, performance and installation. Some may recall the harrowing performance in which the artist had his lips stitched together - in sympathy with the people in Australia’s detention camps. This astonishing action symbolised the radical suppression of any dissenting voice. I don’t think Parr could be considered an outsider. Is he disabled? The term seems meaningless!

The American painter and pioneer of photo realism – Chuck Close was already a highly successful artist when an accident left him in a wheelchair, with limited use of his hands – almost 30 years ago. Close absolutely rejects the proposition that a severe physical handicap has been an impediment to his creativity. Indeed, most critics would affirm that Close has produced his best work during this time. Is he an Outsider?

Another powerful example is Judith Scott. Scott, who died at a relatively young age in 2005, had Down Syndrome. In her time she achieved remarkable respect - universally. The renowned sculptor Louise Bourgeois was an admirer. Despite an intellectual disability, Scott made a profound impact as one of the most significant textile artists to emerge on the global art scene.

Today, Outsider art is taken very seriously around the world. It is big business. Specialist galleries, museums and serious collectors are popping up everywhere - France and Germany, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Britain, US and Canada to name a few.

Works from Lausanne’s Art Brut and Heidelberg’s Prinzhorn Collections are constantly touring the world… This year New York has hosted its 17th International Outsider Art Fair. The European Outsider Art Fair was in Vienna in May. Why not an International Outsider Art Fair in Australia?... in Adelaide? These art fairs are now seen as major events in the International Art Calendar.
I advise everyone to start collecting now!

None of the artists in this exhibition should be underestimated. They are unique and original talents. Here you will find artworks that are sophisticated in another way… delights that can come as unexpected visions that challenge us with a totally different notion of skill. Or we could be confronted with work that taps the childhood innocence that Picasso dreamed of achieving - art that is intense with the difficulty and concentration of its creation - or where simple gestures and complex forms explode with colourful and spontaneous energy. And most importantly, artwork that is pure exuberant Fun!

How fortunate we are to have Arts Access here in Adelaide - an organization that turns the margins into the centre.

Enjoy this extraordinary show!
Rock and Roll!!

Paul Hoban, February, 2008 - copyright Paul Hoban - used with permission

Friday, September 11, 2009

Outsiders art - worth looking into

IN SEPTEMBER 2006, the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris hosted a survey of Australian outsider artists. The event was organised by Orange Regional Gallery, without a cent of support from the Australia Council. At the same time, the council spent $1.3 million to see works by Aboriginal artists copied onto the walls and ceiling of the Musee du Quai Branly's administration building. Shortly afterwards, more than $2 million was found to send three artists - and numerous bureaucrats and curators - to the Venice Biennale.
Needless to say, the two latter events were hailed as extraordinary triumphs for Australian art abroad, although it is difficult to find much corroboration outside of the Ozco press releases. The Australian outsiders show, which cost about $40,000, having been assisted by the Gordon Darling Foundation, was well received in Paris but hardly made a ripple in Australia. This is a familiar story for outsider artists in this country.
Outsider art is the English-language term for that movement the French artist, Jean Dubuffet, dubbed "l'Art brut" or "raw art". To provide the most basic of definitions, outsider art is made by people who work outside of the accepted art networks and institutions. In many cases, the artists suffer from mental illness or disability but the list also includes prisoners, hermits and anyone who simply doesn't fit.
There has always been a stigma associated with psychiatric illness and this is reflected in the institutional neglect of outsider art. A few years ago, I lent support to a project that proposed a museum of outsider art for Parramatta. The idea was obviously not sexy for the local council, which is now talking about spending millions on a centre for digital media - a proposal that has the capacity to be an expensive white elephant. It does, however, have the clean, "modern" veneer beloved of politicians and bureaucrats.
This attitude is also found in public galleries that have acquired vast quantities of work by insiders such as Mike Parr, who strive to emulate the unselfconscious creative processes of outsiders. They have been less willing to see merit in the genuine article. In other words, while funding bodies and museums have supported all kinds of "radical" art, they have hesitated to get behind anything too conspicuously raw.
The National Gallery of Australia possesses a small outsider collection, thanks to a bequest from Peter Fay, who donated part of his private holdings in 2003. Another notable patron is the art dealer Stuart Purves, who has acquired hundreds of works from the Art Projects workshop in Melbourne.

The steady growth of local interest in outsider art mirrors a worldwide escalation of exhibitions in private and public venues, dedicated workshops and publications. In the past few years, I've seen exhibitions by outsiders such as Henry Darger and Augustin Lesage in Paris and a survey at London's Whitechapel Gallery that put outsiders alongside some of the biggest names in modern art.
If one had to speculate as to why outsider art is becoming more prominent, one need only look at the upper echelons of the contemporary art world where there now exists a cosy - almost conspiratorial - relationship between the big-name artists and the marketplace. In the 1970s, conceptual artists went to extraordinary lengths to avoid making objects that could be co-opted by the art market. Nowadays the game is to make a piece of glittering kitsch or a contemptuous daub and charge the highest possible price. More often than not, some rich but shallow "investor" will buy it. Selling junk to the super-rich is considered to be not only profitable but "subversive".
Welcome to the modern world, where all forms of greed and corporate barbarity are justified by the "dismal science" of economics. For certain artists and curators, the grotesque spectacle of such a society, in which everything is measured in monetary terms, holds a perverse fascination. This trend has created an audience of "outsiders" who look to
art for a more immediate form of experience. They seek an art that is moving or challenging - that appeals to the heart rather than one's fashion sense..."

How outsiders get a raw deal - John McDonald September 6, 2008 - The Sydney Morning Herald
copyright John McDonald - used with permission

I had to borrow this remarkable and rare article to make the point that Australia is ten years behind the world when it comes to art. A few years have already past. Intelligent art investors and collectors will no doubt realise that and get in early.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food for thought

Alan Bamberger asks art galleries and collectors and anyone who likes art: What do you look for or expect from an artist whose art you like and might want to exhibit or buy? For artists, what do you think galleries and collectors should look for or expect from you in addition to your art?

Very few answers, a lot of cranky artists responding that they make art for themselves and they are free to sell to selected people only (wishful thinking and delusional!).

Here's my take:
As a collector I expect to be respected by the artist, as a dealer, I don't really care as long as it sells.

I collect mainly stuff that connects me with the artist - art that apart from its beauty, idea, technique, etc. has also a personal touch which I call respect. I refuse to buy art from arrogant pricks that believe are above all and deserve to be collected. Just my personal view. I will buy pieces from arrogant pricks if I believe they will go up in price short term and I will simply sell their work as soon as I can.

As an example, I wanted to buy a nice piece from an artist once and he told me that his wife didn't want to sell that piece anymore, although it was on display. Needless to say I will never go back. I will, however, keep an eye on the artist, just in case I could make a quick buck, but I very much doubt it.

Art selling is a business and no one in this business is happy to promote something that is hard to sell. This includes unreliable supply, difficult vision, terrible attitude and the much beloved arrogance where people believe they have the right to sell to whomever they want. More like sour grapes to me.Oh, and by the way, the quality of the work, the talent, the novelty, the passion and reliable output, the vision are also very important.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eccentric is always good in art

This week, the ABC has presented a great documentary about Ian Fairweather, one of the most important Australian artist. For any person who contemplates building an art collection, this documentary is a must see and take notice. There are a few lessons in there, but for the art collector there is the most important lesson ever to remember - look for passion, people ignored by the mainstream (just note how many artist friends the man had, yet he painted on newspapers, as he ran out of materials!) and collect religiously. If the artist is young, the payback may come too late for you to enjoy, so look carefully.
Like with every investment, value gets created by going against the trend.
“It's hard to think of a more difficult subject for a film. Ziegler quickly discovered that many of Fairweather's contemporaries had died, some were unwilling to contribute to the film, and other sources were simply inaccessible, beyond her budget. And too many art world heavies talked in impenetrable jargon.”
Graeme Blundell - The sage of Bribie Island,25197,25747095-5015662,00.html

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Recession - a great time to buy

If you wander around the established galleries today, you'll notice that most of them present their stockrooms. This is how they have survived during recessions and this time it's no different.
What that means for collectors:
1. You can buy great work at never to be seen again prices. You can haggle. Galleries will be happy to negotiate to get a sale. Their bills have to be paid.
2. Very few new artists are being given the opportunity to present their work. Most artists are desperate. And cheap. Here's your chance!
3. Emerging artists are very, very cheap. Their work will go up in price, simply because now it's so down. Look them up.
Whatever you do, BEWARE!
1. There is a reason why works in stockrooms hasn't sold. Do your homework, or better, stay away.
2. Established artists struggling are compromising on size, quality, subject matter. Do your homework, or better, stay away.
Emerging artists simply continue doing what they do, having little alternative. The quality, size and subject matter stays the same, as they don't have any reason to change. The price of their work hits rock bottom, so you can buy in bulk and watch your investment grow in good times.
Be smart - I know you are.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Look for "desperate and cheap"

My good friend, Tony Moffitt on his blog makes some very good points about ways artists should follow to improve their chances to sell their work.

As with every investment, if you want to be successful when investing in art, invest in someone who looks desperate an cheap.

Look for people with plenty of art and even more advertising on their blogs.

Desperate means that person is putting a lot of effort into selling his work.

Cheap means you are in for a bargain.

These are people where you should buy in bulk. The more you buy from them, the more other people start seeing them take off and the ball starts rolling.

With people that look confident and expensive, no such luck.