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James Lettiere, Art Critic: Exhibition of Outsider Art at Hirschl & Adler Modern PDF Print Email


By James Lettiere, Art Critic

May 17, 2017:  The current exhibition at the Hirschl & Adler Modern, Parallel Unknown, on show until May 26, comprises small samples of the works of eight Outsider artists. It is very engrossing; visual simplicity and graphic dexterity combine to create a modern image.

"Outsider Art" is defined on the art website as: "A label applied to artworks that have little connection with the art world or are created by people with no formal art training. The term is also applied to artworks by people with psychiatric disabilities and others on the margins of society. However, as more and more examples have been exhibited and subsumed into the historical canon, some have argued that the 'outsider' label should be retired."

The artists in this exhibition are "outsiders," an eclectic mix of individuals with unusual attributes: Hawkins Bolden, a blind self-taught artist; Edward Deeds, a near lifelong ward of the state of Missouri and a mental patient; Royal Robertson, a self-proclaimed prophet; Mary T. Smith, a hearing-impaired domestic servant; Bill Traylor, a self-taught artist who was born a slave and became a sharecropper after Emancipation; Valton Tyler, a self-taught artist universally referred to as "visionary"; Frank Walter, a recluse who lived in a small cabin without running water or electricity; and David Zeldis, a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

However, notwithstanding their diversity, their art displays common themes, as described on the Hirschl & Adler website:

Co-organized with Shrine (New York City), "Parallel Unknown" examines the unintentional points of connection and affinities shared by eight important Outsider artists. These artists, who at first glance appear to be unlikely matches, display an overlap in themes, materials or intention. By exhibiting them together, striking connections can be made despite each artist's lack of awareness of the others' output. Usually regarded in terms of singularity, the very term "Outsider Art" celebrates an artist’s unique experience or vision. "Parallel Unknown" shows that, while singular and visionary, the artists included here are nonetheless united by their shared artistic exploration of the human condition.

The pictures of Bill Traylor are some of my personal favorites and the examples in this exhibition are excellent representations of his work. The website says of Traylor:

A key figure in the tradition of twentieth-century African American folk art, Bill Traylor (1854-1949) is considered by many to be the truest embodiment of the "outsider" or "self-taught" artist. A visual story teller whose drawings have been likened to such evocative interpreters of the South as William Faulkner and Robert Johnson, Traylor's iconic images of people and animals reflect his powers of imagination as well as his close observation of the world around him. Critics have long speculated about the social, cultural, and political implications of his art, as well as its parallels with blues music. What is always agreed upon, however, is its universal appeal stemming from the artist's sincerity, humor, and remarkably sophisticated formalism. 

Another standout for my taste is Mary T. Smith. She can express a heartfelt emotion with a minimalist technique. The website says of Smith:

Mary T. Smith (1904-1995) was born in southern Mississippi and worked as a domestic servant throughout most of her adult life. Smith was born with significant hearing loss, which became more severe with age and made her speech difficult to understand. As part of the Southern tradition of "yard shows" that black artists used to decorate their property and convey messages that could not be openly voiced, Smith created an outdoor environment of incredibly graphic oil enamel paintings on found wood and pieces of corrugated roofing metal that she would drag home from a local garbage dump.

For more information about the exhibition and its eight artists and for general information about the gallery, go to

Hirschl & Adler Modern
The Crown Building
730 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Tel 212-535-8810

Note that because of building renovations, the entrance is around the corner on West 56th Street.

Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 am - 5:15 pm
Saturday, 9:30 am - 4:45 pm
Closed Sunday and Monday

Photo by James Lettiere 


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Books & the Arts Directory

Art Restoration and Framing

Fine Arts Gallery of Bronxville

The Fine Arts Gallery is a beautiful gallery in the heart of our village. It sells original art and specializes in local artists from Bronxville past and present. It provides high end custom framing, art consulting, restoration and appraisals. Appointments are available upon request. It also sells the Historical Conservancy Journals which include a history of the village as well as the artists who have lived here and are presenting living here ($20/copy).

The gallery is open Monday - Saturday 8:30 am - 5pm (Closed Sunday)

99B Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708

Objects & Images Fine Arts

44 Pondfield Road, Suite 12
Bronxville, New York 10708

The O'Silas Gallery at Concordia College

171 White Plains Road
Bronxville, NY 10708

Books & Culture

Bronxville Public Library

The Bronxville Public Library traces its origins back to 1875, when it was a small lending library housed in a room attached to the “Bronxville Model School.” The Library was officially chartered in 1906 and moved into the Village Hall Building. The needs of the library grew with the town and, in 1942, a new standalone building was erected, which is where the Library is today. Over the years, the Library was renovated and expanded to meet the needs of the community.

The Library has wonderful resources for adults and children and offers a comfortable and relaxing environment. The Library also houses a fine art collection, consisting principally of Bronxville painters and sculptors.

The Library offers special events, art exhibitions, and programs for adults, young adults and children.  All events are open to the public, unless otherwise indicated.

The Bronxville Public Library
201 Pondfield Road (Midland Avenue & Pondfield Road)

Womrath Bookshop

Womrath Bookshop is a located in the heart of Bronxville village. In addition to selling books, the store also sell children's toys and holds readings both at the store and elsewhere in the community, such as at the Library.

76 Pondfield Road, Bronxville

(914) 337-0199

Music & Performing Arts Schools


Ballet Arts-The Performing Arts Center of Southern Westchester

Established in 1977, Ballet Arts-The Performing Arts Center of Southern Westchester offers a complete program of Performing Arts education for all ages. 28 teachers conduct over 60 classes per week including Ballet with piano accompaniment, Jazz, Ballroom, Tap, Irish Step, Lyrical Dance and Hip-Hop. New this spring is Creative Movement and Story Time Dance for 2 and 3 year old boys and girls. Fitness classes include Zumba, Pilates & personal training. Classes are available for students ages 2 to Adult in every skill level. Private Dance, Voice & Instrument Lessons at our studio or in your home are available by appointment. Seasonal and Summer Performing Arts Camps.

Themed Birthday Parties-Children and parents enjoy play dance and music with our staff-you have fun and we'll clean up.

Centre Stage is our on site Dance, Gymnastics, Ice Skating and Fitness Apparel and Accessories Boutique. Specialty Dance footwear, Unique Costumes, Gifts and Collectables.
Sheran Daniele, Founder & Artistic Director.
504 Fifth Avenue, Pelham
914 738 8300

Concordia Conservatory

Concordia Conservatory, a preeminent center for music education in Westchester County, is a welcoming community where children and adults find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening to, and participating with others in music. Concordia Conservatory, a community outreach division of Concordia College, offers top quality music programs for early childhood, youth, adults and seniors. The Conservatory's vision is to enrich the lives of the people in our community through music.

Executive Director: Kathleen Suss

Concordia Conservatory of Music & Art

Concordia College-New York

Phone: 914-395-4507

Crestwood Music Education Center

Crestwood Music Education Center, founded in 1987, has established itself as one of the most reputable and premier music schools in Westchester County with well over 800 students studying piano, guitar voice, Suzuki and much more. Their philosophy is to create a very positive, stimulating environment that gives each student the chance for creative self-expression. They believe in the importance of having a world-class faculty with extensive education as well as the teaching and performing experience that can only found in America's finest music schools.

453 White Plains Road
Eastchester, New York 10709


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