13084_Lot_5 cover Outsider Art 2016

Brut Force’s 6 for 16: Top Stories of Self-Taught and Outsider Art 2016

For many people, 2016 was a year of tumultuous and often disappointing surprises. Self-taught and outsider art often found itself as a contrarian to this trend. 2016 brought some major spotlights, notable developments, and significant losses. Below are our picks for top 6 self-taught and outsider art stories of 2016.

1) A Record Setting Christie’s Auction

"Boxer," William Edmondson, Limestone, 17" x 7.25" x 9.25", c. 1936.  Image courtesy of Christie's.

“Boxer,” William Edmondson, Limestone, 17″ x 7.25″ x 9.25″, c. 1936. Image courtesy of Christie’s.


The year started with an unprecedented influx of bids for William Edmondson’s “Boxer” at the Liberation through Expression auction at Christie’s salesroom. The sculpture sold for a realized price of $785,000, the highest price for a piece of outsider art in history.
Following up this success, Christie’s will host the auction, Courageous Spirits: Outsider and Vernacular Art on January 20, 2017. Some featured lots are by artists Eugene von Bruenchenhein, Carlo Zinelli, Bill Traylor, Charles A. A. Dellschau, Howard Finster, and of course sculptures by William Edmondson.

2) Passing of Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial Sr. (American, 1928-2016), Having Nothing is Having Everything, 2004. Cloth, coat hangers, steel, wire, enamel, and spray paint. Collection of William S. Arnett. Alabama Contemporaries

Thornton Dial Sr. (American, 1928-2016), Having Nothing is Having Everything, 2004. Cloth, coat hangers, steel, wire, enamel, and spray paint. Collection of William S. Arnett.

The beginning of the year also brought the sad news of the passing of Thornton Dial. Dial born in 1928 in rural Alabama first caught the attention of the art world when Lonnie Holley introduced his work to Bill Arnett of Soul’s Grown Deep. Dial, a found objects artist, stated that he didn’t really know that what he was doing was art.

Before his passing, his work was featured at major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dial’s work can be found in the upcoming Christie’s auction, as part of the recent collection gifted to the Smithsonian by the Robson family, in the Forging Connections exhibit at the High Museum, and a summer show at the Met in 2017.

3) Helen Rae en Vogue

Helen Rae, Untitled, Crayon and Pencil, 24” x 18”. Image courtesy of The Good Luck Gallery.

Helen Rae, Untitled, Crayon and Pencil, 24” x 18”. Image courtesy of The Good Luck Gallery.

One of the most exciting artists to emerge with mainstream recognition in 2016, was Helen Rae of Claremont, CA. Rae is an artist at First Street Gallery Art Center, an arts management center for adults with developmental disabilities. Rae’s work was first featured at Good Luck Gallery in 2015, and later at the Outsider Art Fair in Paris in 2016. Her unique works and story caught the attention of Vogue magazine garnering a feature article in 2016, a rare achievement by any artist.

Upcoming in 2017, Rae’s work will be on display in a solo show at White Columns in September of 2017. In her interview with Vogue, Good Luck Gallery owner, Paige Wery explains, “Nobody ever took Helen’s work, framed it, and treated it like she’s a contemporary artist, which is what she is.”

4) Continued Success of Art Fairs and Auctions for Sale of Art

Charles Sabba, “My Wall of Resistance”. Courtesy of Y Gallery.

Charles Sabba, “My Wall of Resistance”. Courtesy of Y Gallery. Outsider Art Fair Paris 2016.

As has been well documented, the rise of importance of art fairs and auctions has been unprecedented over the past 10 years now accounting for 40% of all gallery sales. The Outsider and Self-Taught Art field is no exception to this trend. Both the Slotin Folk Art Auction and the New York and Paris Outsider Art Fairs posted good numbers with new galleries and works represented.

The next edition of the New York Outsider Art Fair marks the 25th anniversary of the fair and it takes place January 19-22 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea in Manhattan.

5) Revival of Art Environments

St. EOM, Pasaquan. Photo credit: Ted Degener.

St. EOM, Pasaquan. Photo credit: Ted Degener.

An important part of the tradition of self-taught and outsider art is that of sacred sites and art environments. 2016 brought the revival of Pasaquan. The restoration was one of many undertaken by the Kohler Foundation over the past 20 years. 2016 proved notably prolific as they restored the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC as well.

Looking forward, one major project for the John Michael Kohler Art Center in 2017 is the groundbreaking of the Art Preserve in Sheboygan, WI, the world’s first facility dedicated to the study of art environments and their preservation. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

6) Categorization Debates for Outsider Art 2016

Aloïse Corbaz, "Pope Pius XII," Colored Pencil on a Sheet of Paper. 59" x 39 3/8", 1955. Photo credits: Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne. Photo by Olivier Laffley, Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

Aloïse Corbaz, “Pope Pius XII,” Colored Pencil on a Sheet of Paper. 59″ x 39 3/8″, 1955. Photo credits: Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne. Photo by Olivier Laffley, Atelier de numérisation – Ville de Lausanne. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

In the self-taught and outsider art world, the story behind the art takes a prominent role in its evaluation. This has consistently created the blurry lines around the category. At the beginning of the year, Joe Coleman posited that “there’s only good art and bad art” excluding any category of outsider or insider. The debate is not new and can be seen in the New York Times as early as 1996.

The discussion often boiled over in 2016 though as works by Outsider and Self-taught artists continued to gain mainstream traction. With important discussions taking place around works by We expect that debate to continue and for terminology, acceptance, and exposure to continue to evolve in 2017 and beyond.