When I visited Cincinnati Art Museum’s Isn’t Great To Be An Artist? Insider/Outsider Art from the Robert A. Lewis Collection a few weeks ago, I was met yet again by my inherent discomfort with Outsider Art. I do love folk art, but this show exposes an underlying “primitivist” aesthetic that exploits along racial, cultural, and economic lines. Because I struggle to get beyond this (I left the museum in tears), I decided not to write about the show.
Last night however, I left ArtWorks Green Spaces: Everyday is Earth Day simply furious. The show featured work by artists from Visionaries & Voices, a non-profit art studio in Cincinnati for artists with disabilities. My anger over the show last night is a direct response to a clear lack of respect for these artists. The first thing I notice when entering the gallery was a failure to label any of the works of art. Instead, ArtWorks supplied a printed list of the artists’ names, the names of the works, and poor quality b&w reproductions of the art. I found myself and others walking around the gallery trying to match up the art with the information on the list. I’ve never seen such a poor art installation.
According their website, Visionaries & Voices has a “vision that artists with disabilities are valued members of the cultural community, and that they have opportunities for artistic success and creative growth in an atmosphere of mutual respect, inspiration, and joy.” ArtWorks’ disrespect for these artists is immediately clear in the poor presentation. Further, the marginalization of the artist of Visionaries & Voices became more painfully clear when I walked towards the back of the gallery and saw works by two artists not part of the show whose work were clearly labeled.
While the Cincinnati Art Museum asks the question with Isn't It Great To Be An Artist?, Artworks answers with, perhaps not always.