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Symposia & Lectures
03 Apr 2017

Post-Dubuffet: Self-Taught Art in the Twenty-First Century—SOLD OUT

This event is sold out but will be live streamed on Facebook.

In a world exponentially altered by technology and its far-reaching effects on community structures, social relationships, and educational systems, is self-taught art being radically revised in the twenty-first century? Who are the art brut artists of tomorrow?

Curators, scholars, and artist come together in this symposium to examine the current state of the field. Speakers will include Maxwell L. Anderson, Edward M. Gómez, Massimiliano Gioni, Jane Kallir, Randall Morris, Barbara Safarova, George Widener, and Valérie Rousseau, symposium chair and curator at the American Folk Art Museum.

The symposium will be immediately followed by a public reception and book launch for The Hidden Art: 20th- & 21st-Century Self-Taught Artists from the Audrey B. Heckler Collection, written by Valérie Rousseau (ed.), Jane Kallir, Anne-Imelda Radice, and 29 additional authors (New York: Skira Rizzoli/American Folk Art Museum, 2017), with photography by Visko Hatfield. Join us as many of the contributors come together to celebrate this important publication.



1:30 pm: Registration & Refreshments

2:00 pm: Welcome Address

Anne-Imelda Radice, Executive Director, American Folk Art Museum

2:05–2:15 pm: Opening Remarks: International and Contemporary Perspectives on Self-Taught Art

Valérie Rousseau, Curator, Self-Taught Art and Art Brut, American Folk Art Museum

Swiss creators like Aloïse Cobaz, Heinrich Anton Müller, and Adolf Wölfli, and American artists like Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, and Judith Scott, are frequently cited as archetypal figures of the art brut concept defined by Jean Dubuffet in 1945 and continuously redefined through subsequent intellectual developments. Throughout the twentieth century, self-taught artists working outside the art mainstream have been the subject of extensive interest from professional artists, critics, art dealers, collectors, and museum curators—including figures such as Morris Hirshfield, John Kane, and Bill Traylor, as well as more recent names like Thornton Dial, Richard Greaves, and Melvin Way. Essential in shaping the art historical canon, they are recognized for their impact on visual culture and for their transformative role in the art discourse—a reality championed by Dubuffet, who did not see art brut as a category, but as an evolving concept invented to explore critically the notion of art itself.

In a world exponentially altered by digital technology and its far-reaching effects on community structures, social relationships, and educational systems, is self-taught art being radically revised in the twenty-first century, and if so, who will be the self-taught artists of tomorrow? Can we consider whether art brut—or the oft-used term “outsider art” in the United States—might be an obsolete historical concept, irrelevant in the context of the globalization of art? Or rather, is it a still-relevant expression of timeless features and idiosyncratic values, regardless of changing mediums like performance, photography, and video? Indeed, art discoveries recently made outside of the expected realm of the West have challenged the initial dichotomies (high/low, insider/outsider) prevalent in the field. Moreover, our fluctuating conceptions of otherness and the significant remodeling of psychiatric treatments have also contributed to changing perspectives. Finally, in the context of the growing presence of self-taught art/art brut in encyclopedic and generalist art museums, it is also worth reflecting on the role of museums that specialize in this artistic material, and their vision for the future.

2:20–2:45 pm: Art Brut: Some Current International Trends

Edward M. Gómez, Art Critic and Art Historian

In recent years, as the territorial and thematic scope of research in the related, overlapping fields of art brut, outsider art, and self-taught art has broadened, both the Collection de l’Art Brut and Raw Vision magazine have played leading roles in presenting the work and ideas of hitherto unknown artists from different parts of the world and in examining their achievements in ever more diverse and illuminating contexts. This presentation will highlight current trends and issues concerning the work of self-taught artists in and from Japan, as well as broader research and exhibition activities at the Collection de l’Art Brut that reflect the museum’s latest interests and discoveries.

2:50–3:15 pm: Hans Prinzhorn and Early Psychiatric Collections to the Concept of Art Brut in the Beginning of the 21st Century

Barbara Safarova, President, abcd foundation

In the early 1920s, a new generation of doctors and collectors—Hans Prinzhorn being the most singular—took an interest in the images made by patients, both because their creations offered a means of access to the unconscious, and because—unlike their predecessors—they considered them works of art, even if the actual word “art” was only sparingly used. Obviously, our aesthetic consciousness evolves over time and we constantly discover artistic territories, previously invisible, depending on changes in cultural paradigms, or even scientific discoveries. How has our perception of works of art brut changed almost one hundred years after the publication of Prinzhorn’s Bildnerei der Geisteskranken? What kind of unifying connections are there between the works in the abcd / Bruno Decharme collection?

3:20–3:45 pm: The Future is Diversity: Art Brut in the 21st Century

Randall Morris, Independent Scholar and Co-owner, Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York

This lecture will attempt to draw attention to the art historical need to recognize a stretching of prevailing parameters of taste in the field by highlighting authentic and important self-taught artists from different cultures who are pushing the borders of the field as we know it. The collection of Audrey B. Heckler has been prominent in the appreciation of these contemporary inclusions.

3:45–4:10 pm: Coffee Break

4:10–4:35 pm: Rethinking “Taughtologies” in Artistic Practice

Maxwell L. Anderson, President, Souls Grown Deep Foundation

This talk will explore the “sorting hat” that defines some artists as part of the so-called art mainstream, and relegates others into exile. The language used in such sorting is revelatory and problematic. The phrase “self-taught” is, for nearly half of the most successful artists working today, just as applicable as it is to artists who lack a laminated pass to the leading art fairs. But a lack of formal education seems to stick for the most part to artists of color or of limited means, leading to their being defined not as mainstream but as “idiosyncratic.” This talk will explore how a reflexive invocation of such qualifying labels perpetuates both harmful stereotypes and a self-fulfilling ostracism from the “mainstream.”

4:40–5:05 pm: George Widener in His Own Words

George Widener, Artist

George Widener will discuss the life experiences that led him to a career as an artist. He will discuss his early artworks, as well as share projects he is currently working on.

5:10–5:35 pm: Massimiliano Gioni in Conversation with Valérie Rousseau

Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director, New Museum of Contemporary Art

Massimiliano Gioni will reflect on the positioning of self-taught artists in art institutions and in art history. With the growing inclusion of artists situated outside the art mainstream in museum exhibitions, such as the New Museum’s The Keeper (2016), what may be the prototypical art museum of tomorrow and what challenges might it pose to its artistic specificity?

5:40–6:10 pm: Questions

6:10–6:15 pm: Closing Remarks: Where Do We Go From Here?

Jane Kallir, Independent Scholar and Codirector, Galerie St. Etienne, New York

6:30–7:30 pm: Reception & Book Launch for The Hidden Art: 20th- & 21st-Century Self-Taught Artists from the Audrey B. Heckler Collection (New York: Skira Rizzoli/American Folk Art Museum, 2017)


Maxwell Anderson is president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to researching, documenting, preserving, and exhibiting the work of African American artists of the American South. He concurrently serves as executive director of the Geneva-based New Cities Foundation, which he joined in 2015. Throughout almost thirty years as an art museum director, he sought to address challenges facing the cultural sector, from operational efficiency to programmatic relevance, transparent business practices, community engagement, cultural property ownership disputes, and the effect of digital platforms on communications. He directed a total of five art museums in Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Indianapolis, and Dallas. He holds a PhD in art history from Harvard University, and serves on the executive board of the National Committee for the History of Art.

Massimiliano Gioni is the artistic director of the New Museum in New York and the director of the Trussardi Foundation in Milan. He has curated numerous exhibitions internationally, among which include the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, the eighth Gwangju Biennale in 2010, the fourth Berlin Biennale in 2006, and Manifesta 5 in 2004.

Edward M. Gómez is an art critic, art historian, graphic designer, and author. The senior editor of the outsider art magazine Raw Vision and New York correspondent of Art & Antiques, he is also a member of the advisory council of the Collection de l’Art Brut, the world’s first museum dedicated to the art of visionary, self-taught artists, in Lausanne, Switzerland, which was founded by Jean Dubuffet. Edward has written for the New York TimesArt + AuctionARTnewsArt in AmericaMetropolisHyperallergic, the Brooklyn Rail, the Japan TimesReforma, and other outlets. He is the author or coauthor of numerous publications, including, among others, the New Design series (Rockport), Genqui Numata (Franklin Furnace Archive), Dictionnaire de la civilisation japonaise (Hazan Éditions), Yes: Yoko Ono (Abrams), The Art of Adolf Wölfli: St. Adolf-Giant-Creation (American Folk Art Museum/Princeton University Press), Hans Krüsi (Iconofolio/Outsiders), Amer Kobaslija (George Adams Gallery), and As Things Appear, a collection of stories (Ballena Studio). Among other honors, he has received Fulbright, Asian Cultural Council, and Pro Helvetia research awards. In collaboration with Chris Shields, Edward has made the new film Valton Tyler: Flesh is Fiction, which examines the life and work of the Texas-based, self-taught artist who is known for his visionary oil-on-canvas paintings of otherworldly landscapes; it will be released later this year.

Jane Kallir, codirector of New York’s Galerie St. Etienne, is an expert on early twentieth-century self-taught artists. The gallery represents the estates of Grandma Moses and John Kane, and Kallir has written widely about both artists. Her professional activities also extend to more recent “outsiders,” such as Henry Darger, and to European art brut. Among Kallir’s many books are The Folk Art Tradition: Naive Painting in Europe and the United States and Grandma Moses: The Artist Behind the Myth.

Randall Morris is an independent scholar, curator, and writer. He is co-owner with his wife, Shari Cavin, of Cavin-Morris Gallery and is currently researching the connections between the spiritual arts of the African American diaspora, primarily the United States Haiti, and Jamaica. 

Valérie Rousseau, PhD, is curator of self-taught art and art brut at the American Folk Art Museum. Since 2013, she has curated numerous exhibitions, including the AAMC Award–winning When the Curtain Never Comes Down on performance art (2015), Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet (2015), and others about Eugen Gabritschevsky, Willem Van Genk, Ronald Lockett, Richard Greaves, Bill Traylor, Melvin Way, Carlo Zinelli, Native American effigies, and Brazilian ex-votos. The director of the Montreal-based Société des arts indisciplinés, from 2001 to 2007, she is the author of “Visionary Architectures” (The Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, 2013), “Revealing Art Brut” (Culture & Musées, 2010), and Vestiges de l’indiscipline (Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2007). Rousseau holds a PhD in art history and an MA in art theory (both from UQÀM, Montreal), as well as an MA in anthropology (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris).

Barbara Safarova, a Czech film producer and essayist with a PhD in aesthetics, has been the president of the abcd foundation since 2001. In 2010 she became a program director at the Collège international de philosophie in Paris. In her essays she explores artistic productions in the field of art brut from multiple points of view—aesthetics, art history, literary theory, and psychoanalysis—including their status within the contemporary art field. She is currently preparing the exhibition La Folie en Tête featuring a selection of works from the early twentieth-century European psychiatric collections at La maison de Victor Hugo in Paris (November 17, 2017 – March 18, 2018).

George Widener, a self-taught artist and calendar savant, creates mixed-media works on paper that give aesthetic, visible form to complex calculations based on dates and historical events—the sinking of the Titanic being one of his favorites. The artist often uses found paper or a support composed of layers of tea-stained paper napkins. His drawings feature simple palettes, sophisticated patterning, and bold compositions of dates and imagery that transcend centuries of time and the history of art.

Widener’s work has been extensively exhibited worldwide. The artist was part of the exhibition World Transformers: The Art of the Outsiders, at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt (2010) and Exhibition 1 at the Museum of Everything in London (2009). Additionally, fourteen of Widener’s works were in the exhibition Hiding Places: Memory in the Arts at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (2011). Widener was also included in the exhibition The Alternative Guide to the Universe, curated by Ralph Rugoff at the Hayward Gallery in London (2013). Widener’s work is in many international private collections and museum collections, including the American Folk Art Museum in New York, collection abcd in Paris, the Museum of Everything in London, the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands, and the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is represented by Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York.


George Widener (b. 1962), 2112–1221 (detail), Ohio, 2006, ink on paper, 19 1/4 x 20 in., collection of Audrey B. Heckler. Photo by Visko Hatfield © 2017 George Widener.

2:00 pm–6:30 pm

$10 members, students, and seniors; $20 non-members

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