Outliers vs. Vanguard Art at the National Gallery

An example of the new exhibit’s art, from the artist Horace Pippin. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art

By Katarina Ivancik

The National Gallery of Art has recently gained a temporary new addition to its already expansive collection. From now until May 13th, 2018, the Outliers and American Vanguard Art exhibit will be available for viewing in the East Building, Concourse Galleries. The exhibit features a large and inclusive variety of artists ranging from Henri Rousseau to Sister Gertrude Morgan.

Many of the pieces on display were created by amateur artists with little to no training who had been discounted and dismissed by society. “Bringing together some 250 works in a range of media, the exhibition includes more than 80 schooled and unschooled artists and argues for a more diverse and inclusive representation in cultural institutions and cultural history,” explains The National Gallery of Art.

What is Outlier and Vanguard art and how is it different from other arts? Outlier is an art created by self-taught artists who have been regulated to the category of folk artists, and up until recently, have been considered less authentic than professionally trained artists. Vanguard art is art created by professional artists who stood by and advocated for their untrained contemporaries. This exhibit allows both types of artists to stand side by side and invites you to look at the differences, similarities, nuances, and truths found in both types of art. It is very different to even distinguish the professional from the amateur without the help of a sign or brochure.

As the exhibit explains, the “Outliers and American Vanguard Art focuses on three moments of social, political, and cultural upheaval when the intersection of self-taught artists had been at its most fertile.” The works of art are taken from three different eras of the last century; 1924-1943, 1968-1992, 1998-2013.

The first pieces seen are eye-catching mixed media pieces that are distinctly modern; moving further into the space is a simple tribute to The Gettysburg Address. There is nothing particularly profound or artistic about the piece itself; its significance comes from the artist’s awareness and foresight. They understood the historical gravity of the Gettysburg Address and the artwork reflects that knowledge. Less than a foot away from that is a detailed wooden rendering of the Garden of Eden. The variety seen from piece to piece is incredibly inspiring; realistic oil on canvas painting is featured right next to a crayon on cardboard sketch. These artists’ endless supply of creativity is emphasized by the variety of materials and range of subject matters seen throughout the exhibit.

Most of the work is American and some of the more standout pieces coincide with pivotal moments of American history. Domesticity and religion were two other recurring themes found in every section of the exhibit. The Outliers and American Vanguard Art exhibit represents one of the first times that Outlier artists are recognized alongside Vanguard artists, not just as folk artists, but as artists that deserve the same recognition and exposure as professionally trained artists. There is something very honest and unique about the Outliers and Vanguard artwork, something that has been missing from other art exhibits.  Finally, artists without a voice can have their say alongside their supporters and the stark, fascinating, and pivotal artwork they created can be properly appreciated.

 

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