Deborah Grant

Survey Of Outsider Artists Challenges The Meaning Of 'Black Art'

Kevin Beasley, Huffington Post, February 27, 2014

It’s not often that so-called “outsider artists” get a chance to showcase their artwork on the walls of an established New York gallery, hanging with imbued importance next to big names like Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems. Such is the case, however, with “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South,” a wild and vibrant show hitting the Studio Museum in Harlem next month.

Gathering together self-taught artists from the 1960s to today, the exhibition uses outsider masterpieces to explore the meaning of “black art.” From painting to sculpture to performance, the overview showcases the work of 35 intergenerational artists who have perpetuated myths, engaged stereotypes or challenged tropes having to do with blackness. Furthermore, the artists all share a fascination with the real or constructed idea of the American South, and — through everything from ethical examinations to spiritual revelry — give graphic presence to place.

From Henry Speller’s comic-esque drawings of female bodies to Ralph Lemon’s surreal portraits of rabbit costume-clad subjects to Jacolby Satterwhite’s digital landscapes, the artworks rip apart any notions of a conventional black aesthetic, revealing images of folk African Americana and downhome South that push abstraction and experimentation to the forefront. While some artists like Walker and Weems possess enviable resumes and cemented relationships with the art world’s biggest players (see Weems’ Guggeheim takeover here), other self-taught figures do not. Their distinct imaginings work against expectations of academic training, highlighting an experience informed by belonging — national and regional and institutional.

The show is part of the Studio Museum’s “slate of exhibitions and projects that challenge the boundaries of contemporary art practice and exhibition” this spring. The collection will likely raise more questions than answers as to how and why our conceptions of art come to be; nevertheless, the survey of artists outside the mainstream fold is a visually enticing as it is informative. Scroll through a preview of “When the Stars Begin to Fall” here and let us know your thoughts on the exhibition in the comments.

“When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South” will be on view from March 27 to June 29, 2014 at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Click here to view the article on the Huffington Post