An Insider’s Guide to the Outsider Art Fair

Michael Pellew - LAND

Untrained, reclusive, and off-the-beaten-MFA path outsider artists are having their moment in the art world spotlight right now. (It helps that the price point of entry for collectors is relatively low.) Here are 5 under-the-radar talents to check out at New York’s Outsider Art Fair this weekend. Happy shopping.


Morton Bartlett, at Marion Harris

When people consider the late Bartlett, who died in 1992 but whose photographs of his own astonishingly lifelike doll sculptures were only discovered posthumously, they often speak in adult-rated fables: “Humbert Humbert with a Henry Higgins side” is how Roberta Smith describes him in The New York Times. Bartlett came from an excellent Boston family and went to Exeter and Harvard before dropping out, but it has been suggested that his true development was arrested at eight years old—the age when he was orphaned—and that his dollmaking was an attempt to create the family he never had. It’s a backstory that only ups the creepy-crawly quotient on these photographs.


Hawkins Bolden, at Shrine

The Memphis native also suffered a tragedy at age 8, when an accident left Bolden blind. The late African-American artist, who is also part Native American, nevertheless began fashioning scarecrows and other sculptures out of the detritus of his everyday life—not out of artistic ambition but to protect his garden from peckish birds. By the time he died in 2005, he was an artist. Ingeniously, Shrine gallery has installed his work in situ, or as it would’ve appeared to neighbors walking by Bolden’s yard.


Ionel Talpazan, in Booth 59

This year’s memorial exhibition honors the Romanian artist, who up until his death in 2015 could be found hawking his UFO paintings outside New York’s MoMA, and sometimes even on the sidewalk near the Outsider Art Fair. A true outsider’s outsider, Talpazan claimed to had a close encounter when he was a child in the Romanian countryside.


Michael Pellew, at LAND

There is a childlike joy to the Brooklyn artist’s drawings of celebrities. Like any kid, Pellew likes to have his characters play together nicely, and he has a certain vernacular style that is all his own: for what other portraitist would you mistake a rendering of Ozzy Osbourne for one of Taylor Swift? And is that Zendaya?


John Bates, at Fleisher/Ollman and Arts Project

The Australian artist is known for his meticulous application of acrylic paint on his canvases. He builds them up into solid swaths of color that from a distance looks almost mass-printed, which is why they made me think of construction paper, which is how my brain, upon first encountering them, thought: Matisse made landscapes from his cut-outs?