Do you feel like the category of "Outsider Art” is a useful one? Is there a good reason to think about Outsider artists as a distinct category of artistic practice, separate from the “modern” and “contemporary” art in general, or is that separation a reflection of art-historical biases?
The categorization of Self-Taught and Outsider Art is only useful in that collectors seem to need a certain specificity. Labels serve a purpose for sure, but they’re better suited to supermarkets rather than museums and galleries. If you go to a supermarket and you pick a can off the shelf that has a label reading “green beans,” you don’t want to take it home and find that it’s filled with carrots. In the case of art, you’re buying visual data; you’re taking home something that is conveying new information and that has the capability of taking you on a voyage—it might be a short trip or a life-changing journey. For us, this is the thing that defines art—or at least art that is effective regardless of where it came from. Bad art, as far as I’m concerned, is art that doesn’t have the capability of doing that.
To that end, I don’t make any distinction between academic and non-academic art (“high” and “low,” as they’re sometimes described). There have been museum exhibitions where academic and non-academic art were placed together: "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and Modern at MoMA (1984) and Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1992), or the show that just opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (Outliers and American Vanguard Art, curated by Lynne Cooke). All the non-academic works in those three shows did (and do) more than hold their own with their academic counterparts.
For Independent, you'll be bringing works by Martín Ramírez and Leopold Strobl, artists of different generations and geographical/cultural backgrounds who have both primarily worked within the context of psychiatric institutions. How did you decide to bring these artists together?
It all came about over a discussion that I had with Matthew Higgs [Independent’s founding curatorial advisor], who has a deep knowledge and a long history with the work of Martín Ramírez and a far newer visual relationship with Leopold Strobl. Clearly the California/Mexican background and institutionalization of Ramírez is quite different from the work of Austrian native Strobl, who is currently making art in Austria’s Galerie Gugging atelier program—an offshoot of the “Gugging House of Artists,” which dates back to 1954, when psychiatrist Leo Navratil administered diagnostic drawing tests to his patients at the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic, unexpectedly discovering artistically talented individuals in his ward. Yet, both artists have produced bodies of work that explore the abstracted landscape, and that visual relationship is what we will be exploring.
The works that you'll be bringing by both artists can all be described as landscapes, but the artists adopt quite different formal approaches. What kind of relationship do you see between their works?
At the core, the approach is the same as it would be by any artist who has something new to say; anyone who has tried to find a visual language for something that has never been seen before. However, both artists are operating within the isolation of the mind, or their own internal landscapes, and that’s what gives each body of work a very particular scale and inflection. The ways in which Ramírez and Strobl approach their subject matter a re in many ways opposite—Ramírez tends to be expansive, Strobl is always partial and confined to a very small pictorial space, looking at things as if through a keyhole. Both visions are, however, equally compelling in their extreme distortion of space.