In the 1940s, the French artist Jean Dubuffet began collecting “works produced by artists unscathed by artistic culture,” as he put it in a 1949 text describing his term art brut (unrefined art). But by the 1970s, consumerism permeated American life, and the art world—a rarefied niche—suddenly acquired a taste for the vernacular, and gave it a new label: “Outsider Art.” Not all collectors embraced the term. John Ollman, a pioneer gallerist of “Self-Taught Art”—his preferred description—found it pejorative, a bow to the very culture that these works defied. Ollman’s commitment to preserving the integrity of these pieces, even as the elite art bastions threatened to taint them, has made him a leading voice in art brut curation as well as a bit of an outsider in his own right. This exhibition—held simultaneously in two galleries, one in New York and the other in Portland—celebrates Ollman’s philosophy and honors him with a selection of pieces by the artists he helped to both promote and protect. As William Pym puts it in an essay that accompanies the show, “He devotes his life to telling the stories of those disenfranchised by the educational system and the art world.” —C.J.F.
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