Known/Unknown: Private Obsession and Hidden Desire in Outsider Art showcases over 100 rarely seen works by self-taught artistic masters – so called ‘outsider artists’ – who have worked outside the continuum of art history. The exhibition features photographs, sculptures and paintings which provide provocative and sometimes disturbing insight into the psychological terrain of their creators. Featured artists include: Robert Anderson, Steve Ashby, Morton Bartlett, Gil Batle, Eugene von Bruenchenhein, Henry Darger, Thornton Dial, Aurie Ramirez, Marilena Pelosi, Miroslav Tichý, Edwin Lawson, Johann Korec, Johann Garber and Royal Robertson.
The art in Known/Unknown is a long way from the typical art world. Many of the artists in the exhibit are self-taught, with little formal education, and range from institutionalized mental patients, to intellectually disabled people, to untutored isolates and eccentrics. Their pieces were often created in seemingly unlikely places; ranging from the sanctuary of psychiatric hospitals to private realms hidden within the lonely, impersonal jungles of teeming cities.
Overall, the work is fueled by secrecy and isolation, resulting in imagery that is far from ordinary experiences of sexuality. And since information about the makers and their objects is often fragmentary with many bodies of work discovered after the death of the artist, in many cases there is no way to know if the makers intended the work for public display. Visitors are left to determine for themselves whether they are actually encroaching on the remnants of these unconventional artists’ most private thoughts.
Exhibition highlights include:
- Erotic sculptural figures by Steve Ashby, who did not begin his life as an artist until after the death of his wife in 1960. Pieces on view include Rocking Bed Cunnilingus Whirligig and Masturbating Man with Hand Under a Woman’s Blouse, both of which give animated reign to Ashby’s sexual fantasies, as well as Woman and Dog, a sculpture of a woman in a compromising position with a dog, which exemplifies the more tongue-in-cheek elements to the sexual acts in Ashby’s work.
- A collection of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s erotic photographs of his wife Marie. The black and white prints are stylistically reminiscent of the1940s pin-up and convey a loving playfulness between the photographer and his subject that is both titillating and profound.
- Grainy photographs taken of unsuspecting women by recluse Miroslav Tichý, considered the master of the stolen image in his hometown of Kyjov (Czech Republic). The technical imperfections of the prints are a result of Tichý’s crude construction of his own homemade cameras out of shoeboxes and toilet paper rolls.
- Also on display is Henry Darger’s watercolor At Sunbeam Creak/At Wickey Lansinia, which is abound with images of little girls, at times subjected to horrible tortures at the hands of male adult oppressors—a theme that is possibly related to the artist’s own childhood traumas growing up in an orphanage, and later an asylum. The piece was among 15,000 pages of text and hundreds of drawings and watercolors discovered by Darger’s landlord shortly before the artist’s death.