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Outsider art preserves its aura and is devoted solely to the search for personal and collective meaning. PHOTOGRAPHY: The Monroe Family Collection of Florida Outsider Art
Outsider art preserves its aura and is devoted solely to the search for personal and collective meaning. Graphic: The Monroe Family Collection of Florida Outsider Art

Florida Outsider Art: Coming from the guts and periphery

The Boca Raton Museum in Florida hosts a unique exhibition of 30 years of selected marginal, outsider and underground art by photographer Gary Monroe.

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: AAPI Philly RISE

May 27th, 2022

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Create to forget? Paint to hollow out the soul? Sculpture as exorcism?

The questions and answers illuminated by art made from the periphery of the larger cultural systems and, more specifically, by Florida's outsiders and marginalized, are the material that fuels "The Monroe Family Collection of Florida Outsider Art" exhibition.

The exhibition is the largest show to date of art of its kind, titled An Irresistible Urge to Create, on view at Florida's Boca Raton Museum through September 5. 86 works on display from 44 Florida artists.

"This new project opens a window into another world. The world of wonder that lies outside the art establishment. For these artists, making art was as essential as breathing," says Irvin Lippman , executive director of the Boca Raton Museum. "Their artistic freedom artistic freedom was a pure, sincere and intimate means of communication."

But by its very definition a marginal art exhibition would seem almost impossible. The magical hinge that turns the mirage into reality is none other than the analogical work of almost a detective-like search over thirty years.

Since the early 1990s, photographer Gary Monroe has driven all over Florida, from Key West to Jacksonville to Pensacola, in search of these artistic gems to protect and archive them, recovering more than a thousand works for his collection of marginalized art and protecting the spell of those works with his efforts.

"When I was making these trips around Florida to seek out and connect with these atypical artists, it was before the Internet and it was quite laborious," Monroe says.

The photographer personally met almost all of these artists one by one and became a part of their lives. At the time, this required a great deal of personal commitment: he had to gain their trust in order to enter their reclusive worlds. "It was an adventure. Especially since especially because there were no cell phones or GPS. Just the old road maps and phone booths."

Outsider art

A large number of artistic works of all kinds, from paintings to novels to songs, make sense beyond the industry or the gallery system. This is because their motivation lies in sublimation, personal exorcism, the search for identities, obsessions or paranoia.

This is an art made by marginalized, migrants and exiles from society. Its communicative relationship is completed in the artistic act itself, thereby helping its creators to narrate themselves and the world.

In the world of comics and fanzines this style had been called termite art, defined because it completes the communicative act itself. Some of the examples were the magazines ZAP or American Splendor. In the mental health sphere, works made by sick people on their way to healing were labeled as outsider art since the 1920s, which was later renamed by Jean Dubuffet as dirty art in connection with the post-surrealist scene.

This type of art, more difficult to find, explains society and ourselves better than industrial art because it preserves its aura and gives itself solely to the search for a personal and collective meaning.

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