Loeb introduces outsider art in exhibit open during Freshman Orientation

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Palak Patel is a senior editor at The Miscellany News.

Summer at Vassar is a completely different world, a season that is not a part of every student’s vista. But for the incoming Class of 2018, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s summer session will be overlapping with this year’s freshman orientation week. An excursion to the Loeb usually means seeing notable pieces by Picasso, Rothko and O’Keefe. However through August 31, Faces and Figures in Self-Taught Art brings an entirely new viewing experience to the Art Center.

This summer, the Loeb decided to try something different by bringing the Faces and Figures in Self-Taught Art Exhibition to Vassar. The focus on self-taught and outsider art is a relatively new concept in the art world. “The notion of outsider art came into being around 70 years ago and has taken many names since, including Art Brut to more accurate ‘self-taught art’” (Press release 05.12.2014).

“Self-taught art is a little bit of a new area for us. We started collecting it in the ’90s and we got a larger gift in 2009 and because it is a new area for us, we try to bring that into the exhibition program as well,” said Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director of Strategic Planning at the Loeb.

The artwork in the Faces and Figures in Self-Taught Art exhibition will come from the Loeb’s own permanent collection, many pieces of which were donated by Patricia O’Brien ’51, who recently passed away. The exhibition will be dedicated to her.

There will be approximately 33 artists featured in the exhibition, including James Castle, Bessie Harvey, Donald Mitchell, Bill Traylor and Inez Nathaniel Walker. The artwork will include a variety of mediums including paintings, drawings, sculptures, books, watercolors and photographic prints.

“While this summer’s show is largely drawn from our permanent collection and organized by the Art Center’s staff, it’s genesis is like most of our shows, a product of creative meetings among members of our exhibitions working group,” said the Loeb’s Director, James Mundy.

This is the second time the Loeb has focused on outsider art from the Permanent Collection. The first time was in 2009. “The first one was called Fake and Fantasy and it 100 percent came from our collection,” said Lombino.

Elizabeth Nogrady, the Andrew M. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs wanted to draw attention to the different circumstances upon which this type of art was created. “Today, contemporary art is often in the public eye after being sold for very, very large sums of money.  In contrast, many of the works in Faces and Figures were produced under very different circumstances, and demonstrate that art is not a luxury but a fundamental characteristic of humanity,” said Nogrady in an emailed statement.

Because it is a relatively new concept, Lombino is optimistic about using outsider art in the Loeb. “I find that outsider art seems to be accessible to pretty much anyone, even children seem to really respond to it. For contemporary art, I find it to be less intimidating than the fine art that is being created out in the art world,” said Lombino. She continues to hope that the new exhibit will be able to attract a variety of tourists to the Hudson Valley and to Vassar.

In fact, the art center’s focus during the summer is not just limited to Vassar students. “During the summer, we focus our programming on our indigenous regional community and to the many vacationing visitors to the Hudson Valley. Overall, the program is less focussed on the academic connections,” said Mundy in an emailed statement.

Lombino is excited about the new prospects of the summer session. “The summer is a different time because our audience changes from being predominantly students, faculty and other members of the campus to visitors to campus,” said Lombino.

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