American galleries account for over half the participants in the eighth Paris Outsider Art Fair, which combines physical exhibitions at Drouot with digital ones.
Dwight Mackintosh (1906-1999), Untitled (DMa 358), 1988, ink, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 22 x 29.75 cm.
COURTESY CREATIVE GROWTH (OAKLAND)
The digital transition seems inevitable and "the pandemic is speeding up the trend," says Nikki Iacovella, the new director of the Outsider Art Fair (OAF). "I think the digital component will matter now, even after Covid-19. It won't replace physical art fairs but it will be a building block in the future". This ongoing change reaches beyond art fairs. For example, it has shaken up the model of the American Primitive gallery, which has participated in the Outsider Art Fair since the first New York show in 1993. "Due to the never-ending pandemic,” says director Aarne Anton, “I decided to close my space in New York and work online from my country house. Online exhibitions are a good way to participate in events as safely as possible, even at great distances". Even before the eighth Paris show, between May and August the OAF created Art Brut Global, a three-part virtual exhibition featuring a selection of works from renowned galleries and dealers (American Primitive, Henry Boxer, Cavin-Morris, Carl Hammer, Yukiko Koide, Creative Growth, Andrew Edlin, J.-P. Ritsch-Fisch, galerie du Marché, Les Yeux fertiles, etc.). The presentation is very simple—photos of works are displayed with captions and prizes—and 5,000 visitors have registered on the website. It is hard to gauge the success of the operation, which lasted four months, in contrast with the fair’s usual four days: only eleven of the 102 works in the first part, for example, are identified as sold. "According to feedback from galleries, an encouraging number of buyers visited Art Brut Global, many of whom were collectors new to the fair," says Nikki Iacovella. Éric Gauthier, of the Moineau Écarlate gallery (Paris), is satisfied with the operation, which, he says, is more geared towards the United States. France seems to be lagging behind in the area of digital technology, which would explain the selection of this year’s Paris OAF. Only four of the 39 participants are French (Le Moineau Écarlate, Pol Lemétais, Frédéric Moisan and Polysémie), but 20 are American. In 2019, the ratio of physically present galleries was the opposite. However, Nikki Iacovella wants to be reassuring. "Many of our French exhibitors come from a long line of eminent Art Brut dealers,” she says. “They’re among the best in the field. There’s still some scepticism about the online model, and many have expressed enthusiasm about returning to the physical show in 2021." Still, this fair looks more like an extension of January’s almost-cancelled New York edition, which drew nearly 10,000 visitors—8% more than in 2019. The inevitable digitalisation makes the idea of geography obsolete.
The Assets of Digitisation
To convince galleries and collectors, it was important for the platform model to evolve. Nikki Iacovella says it will be more ergonomic and dynamic than that of Art Brut Global in order to make up as much as possible for the lack of a direct relationship to the work. Online exhibition rooms are planned where visitors can zoom in on the works and view presentations of the artists. All this is managed by Artlogic, a service provider already well established in the world of art galleries. Each exhibitor is limited to a selection of 15 works—which will deprive gallery owners of the exclusivity they usually reserve for their collectors. "Some buyers like to rummage through storerooms and boxes to find pieces," says Pol Lemétais. However, an undeniable advantage is that "all the galleries have the same presence," says Éric Gauthier. "As a gallery specialising in discoveries, it's always harder for me to have visibility at a fair in the middle of other stands." Everyone is therefore on an equal footing. For example, Charles Schley’s unpublished drawings (around €8,000), which he is presenting with small formats by Cédric Laplace and Eugène Lambourdière, known as "Maurice" (from €500), Demin (€700) and Ayako Miyawaki (€20,000) at Patrick Moisan (Paris), will be in the same click range as works by Henry Darger or Bill Traylor costing $250,000/350,000 at Carl Hammer (Chicago), Augustin Lesage’s paintings (€40,000) at Lemétais or Emery Blagdon’s works ($10,000/50,000) at Cavin-Morris (New York). Shari Cavin has chosen to devote her selection to this artist and his "healing machines". "Blagdon didn’t consider the paintings as works in themselves,” she says. “He called them 'my pretty ones.’ We think he saw them as a kind of circuit board because he put them under machines in a shed, perhaps as a way of healing people. His works have entered Bruno Decharme's abcd collection in Paris, the Museum of Everything and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art."
Less money is spent online. "We’ve noticed that purchases on digital platforms are generally made at lower prices than at physical fairs,” Nikki Iacovella says, “but we’re seeing encouraging signs of a shift in the buying patterns of online enthusiasts. Average prices range from $2,000 to $75,000, while works at physical fairs can sell from $500 to $1 m. The offer appeals to both seasoned collectors and people just beginning to take an interest in the field."
Parisian visitors will be able to experience a real exhibition at the Hôtel Drouot, "Sexual Personae", curated by Alison Gingeras. Dedicated to the depiction of female figures, it includes a wide selection of self-taught, outsider and Art Brut artists. All the works will be on sale on the Drouot digital website. In addition, an online conference programme will host an event "to keep in touch with the public, collectors, experts and enthusiasts," says Antonia Jacchia of the Maroncelli 12 gallery’s (Milan). "In this difficult situation, a virtual fair is the only way to maintain the galleries’ visibility and focus on the wonderful world of Art Brut, which continues to produce extraordinary works."