In one of the abiding ironies of art and taste, the popular fascination with “outsider art” historically coincides with deskilling in academic artistic training, a near cult status of “authenticity” in aesthetic standards and a prevalence of OCD detail among many artists. A blurring of the distinction you might think between fine and outsider, art world and untrained, knowing and savant. The gravedigger scene in Hamlet comes to mind. The mad prince was sent to England because “there the men are as mad as he.” None of this detracts one iota from the sheer visual splendors and moving testimonies to the creative urge that await visitors this weekend to the redoubtable Outsider Art Fair. On three floors of the old Dia building are abundant examples of the “old masters” of art brut (Henry Darger, Albert Louden, James Castles, Bill Traylor, the Philadelphia Wire Man) rubbing shoulders with anonymous side show placards, self-taught originals like Morris Hirshfield, many extraordinary works by artists at every point along the autism spectrum, even an art world luminary who simply “looks” a bit nuts like Peter Saul. The criteria are kept loose as befits a challenge to the rules. As if to prove the slippery boundary between outsider and hipster, Louis B. James has the same artist, Bruce Davenport Jr., in their booth and at their Lower East Side premises. His exhilaratingly vertiginous and obsessively fandom-annotated fight scenes document his love of Mike Tyson. They are knock out. DAVID COHEN
Bruce Davenport Jr., T.D.B.C. Presents Knock Em Down Mike Tyson, 2013,. Archival ink on acid-free paper, 40 x 609 inches. Courtesy of Louis B. James Gallery.
Fair: 548 West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues, from 11AM to 8PM Saturday and 11AM to 6PM Sunday.
Show: through February 21 at 143b Orchard Street, between Rivington and Stanton streets, 212 533 4670