A is for Artist Brings “Outsider Art” Inside

A is for Artist  is a new exhibition at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art that challenges the idea of using the label “outsider art” when describing artists who not only lack academic training in art, but who also suffer from neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disabilities.

On display are 100 works by 66 artists who have diverse approaches to creating contemporary art. The art in this exhibition features artists involved with Chicago-area based programs including: The Arts of Life, Esperanza Community Services, Thresholds, and Flying Colors.

Once considered as individuals who required separation from the mainstream, persons with neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders are now being recognized as vital contributors to the diversity of their communities. This exhibition also addresses the division within the creative community where segregation exists between persons who make art through less traditional means and don’t have academic training and those who do have institution-based training in the arts.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Robert Miller, Green Lady,  2017.  Acrylic paint. Photo courtesy of the artist, Thresholds, and Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

But yet, despite this segregation in the art world, there are numerous similarities in the artistic process as well as the finished product between these two groups.

Scott J. Hunter, who curated this exhibition and is also a professor of neuroscience with a specialization in neurodevelopmental disorders at the University of Chicago, said “Too often we segregate people who are different and this is my effort to help show that the artists in this exhibition are not very different from the rest of us. They may have different ways of looking at the world, they may have different abilities, but when given the opportunity they create these amazing works.”

Through the years, many critics have viewed “outsider art” as idiosyncratic, or worse, something that should be merely tolerated. And because of this attitude, many of these artists have been left to reside outside of the margins in the art world.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Danny Frownfelter, Rhythm Pleats,  2016. Mixed media.  Photo courtesy of the artist, The Arts of Life, and Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

One of the biggest criticisms about “outsider art” is that the artists lack academic training. But maybe that lack of academic training has given self-taught artists the freedom to create from their heart instead of trying to find a balance between educational training and personal expression.

The works in this exhibition convey various moods ― from the dark and brooding such as Robert Miller’s Green Lady  to joyous celebration such as Quinn Zenner’s Universe.  Some of the works also have a whimsical quality such as Jasmine Shaw’s mixed media work titled, Princess Fiona.

Perhaps what is most impressive in this exhibition is that the artists do not try to imitate other artists, but instead express their own unique vision with their vibrant use of color, design and choice of media.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Jasmine Shaw, Princess Fiona,  2017. Mixed media. Photo courtesy of the artist, Esperanza Community Services, and Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

“In this exhibition, there are so many strong examples of work that is no different than what you would see at the Frieze Fair in London or Art Expo in Chicago. At any of the major contemporary art fairs, you’re looking at work that is very similar to this, but perhaps made by an artist who has an MFA,” said Hunter.

A is for Artist  is an opportunity to give recognition to these artists just as we would with artists who are exhibited in museums and contemporary art galleries. And also, to honor their vision as they capture elements of their inner world as well as the world around us.

This exhibition will run through November 26. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) is located at 2320 W. Chicago Ave. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission: Suggested donation is $5. For more info, you can call UIMA at 773-227-5522 or visit their website.

Tom Wawzenek
Tom Wawzenek
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