This show—meant to connect outsider art to the mainstream—is a treasure trove of drawings, photographs and objects. Made mostly by individuals who didn’t consider themselves artists, it leaves you wanting more from each of them.
The first room revolves around a familiar art-historical subject: females as objects of sexual desire. The works here include Morton Bartlett’s Polaroids and drawings of his homemade, anatomically correct dolls of young girls, as well as William Crawford’s delicate pencil renderings on the backside of prison rosters, which may represent a chronicle of his sexual fantasies while incarcerated. They feature the same character in flagrante with different women and have been compared to Tom of Finland and John Currin.
A second gallery veers toward occultism, doomsday prophecy and conspiracy theories. Horst Ademeit took thousands of banal Polaroids (each heavily notated in the margins) of his home and neighborhood in Germany to document the effects of “cold rays,” an invisible radioactive power that he believed emanated from electrical outlets. Ademeit’s thorough and paranoid practice, which he never intended to share with anyone, has obvious affinities with Conceptual Art.
Just as out-there are works by Chris Hipkiss, the pseudonym for married couple Chris and Alpha Mason. Their elaborate drawings blend alchemical diagrams with cartoonish, postapocalyptic visions and recall the work of Florine Stettheimer, another artist who straddled the boundary between outsider and insider, though such categories seem increasingly irrelevant. As this show demonstrates, whether these works were made in secret, driven by mental illness or simply express a personal vision, they’re becoming harder to distinguish from regular gallery fare.—Jennifer Coates