Outing the Outsider Art Market – artmarketblog.com

outsider phil frost Outing the Outsider Art Market   artmarketblog.comI have written about self-taught of “outsider” artists before but was prompted to revisit the topic after sensing an increase in the attention being shown to a number of self-taught “outsider” artists from both an art historical/curatorial perspective and an art market perspective.

Just this week at the Armory art fair it was reported that Ricco/Maresca gallery sold a work by the late self-taught artist Martin Ramirez who spent most of his life in mental hospitals in California. The work in question, a 90-by-36 inch graphite, tempera, and crayon on brown butcher paper titled “Madonna”, is rumored to have sold for more than $400,000. Ricco/Maresca gallery has championed and showcased the art of self-taught masters working outside the art-historical mainstream since it was founded in 1979.

During Sotheby’s Paris Collection Florence Loeb ­- Sources et Affinités sale on the 5th of April a number of drawings by the crazy (insane asylum crazy) yet visionary French playwright, poet, actor, theatre director and self-taught artist Antonin Artaud sold for well above estimate. The top price of the sale went to an Artaud self portrait which sold for 2,136,740 EUR against an estimate of 500,000-700,000 EUR.

Phillips de Pury have championed the work of a number of self-taught artists including Phil Frost, a US based self-taught artist who emerged from an underground New York art scene in the 90′s.  Frost’s  Thunderwhisper, 2004 sold for a staggerint $116,500 against an estimate of $30,000 – 40,000 during the Phillips de Pury March 8 2012 Under the Influence sale of contemporary art.

According to Phillips de Pury:

“Self-taught artist, Phil Frost, harnesses aspects of urban culture, abstraction, tribalism, and modern design to fashion his unique portfolio of work. Incorporating painted walls, graffiti, and collage as well as found objects and imagery to craft his large scale pieces- Frost fuses many different mediums to create elaborate masterpieces for the Contemporary Art scene”.

During another recent Phillips de Pury sale a number of works by the self-taught Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész were offered for sale including the artist’s Fishermen Behind Notre Dame, Paris, 1925 which fetched $37,500 against an estimate of $30,000-50,000. As a self-taught photographer, Hungarian-born André Kertész mastered the art of photographing at a young age, claiming, “Instinctively I began to compose; I learned to perceive the moment”.

In his book ‘groundwaters: a century of art by self-taught and outsider artists’, published in 2011, Charles Russell states that there are “our understanding of self-taught and outsider art must account for two discordant facts: works of significant visual achievement and meaning are created by individuals who are not trained as artists and may not even consider their creations to be art; and that some viewers — usually those familiar with our culture’s “mainstream” tradition of art — see these unexpected objects as works of art but struggle to account for them within the customary artworld terms”.


Thunderwhisper, 2004
mixed media on wood in 21 parts
96 x 229 in. (243.8 x 581.7 cm)
ESTIMATE $30,000-40,000

SOLD AT $116,500

**Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer.  He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog.com) which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others.  Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.

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  • Antiqco

    The three artist you mention all have had significant museum shows. Ramirez had a major exhibition in NY about four years ago. Given the curatorial interest in these artists, I am not surprised they brought big bucks. The question in my mind is how does one discriminate between the output of amateurs and the investment grade niaive artists? It seems to a large extent that those that sell for big prices are those who have been “taken up” by the afficionados.

    Not to put down Ramirez, I do find his work interesting, but it is absolutely repetitive and once you’ve seen one you’ve seen everything there is to see. I do not quarrel with the “untrained” aspect much of value has been created by people with no specific training, the visual acheivement and meaning aspect escapes me. Ramirez is visually interesting but essentially vapid and Darger is cartoonish though his meaning is both powerul and repulsive.  I do agree with Russell that those familiar with the “mainstream’ tradition struggle to to account for them.

  • http://www.butlergoodegallery.com/ red@art consultancy

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s interesting that these
    self-taught artists are gaining so much popularity. It may just be a current
    trend, but who knows? They may continue to amaze us for many more canvasses to


  • Angela

    I just bought a Pervis Young.  If I had nothing but money, I’d go down south and buy outsider art till I was blue in the face.  It’s some of the best art being made today.

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