Masters of Self-Taught Art, Curated by John OllmanDecember 4th, 2023 - February 10th, 2024
Nina Johnson is pleased to present Masters of Self-Taught Art, a group exhibition of over sixty otherworldly objects from the past hundred years, curated by maverick art dealer John Ollman. Opening December 4 in the Upstairs Gallery, the exhibition includes drawings, paintings, and sculptures—many of which have not been exhibited in Miami—crafted by artists widely considered “masters” of the American self-taught genre. Participating artists include Peter Attie Besharo, David Butler, Dorothy F. Foster, Lee Godie, William Hawkins, Frank Jones, Elijah Pierce, and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Joseph Yoakum among others.
As an artist and dealer, John Ollman possesses extensive expertise in art beyond the mainstream, including folk, African, Oceanic, pre-Columbian, and Native American Art, alongside European and American avant-garde. His Philadelphia-based gallery, Fleisher Ollman, stands as a global source for self-taught art, playing a defining role in shaping the field and contributing significantly to the formation of major public and private art collections. In working to broaden the view of what self-taught art means in the contemporary space, he has also showcased work by living artists from developmentally disabled studio programs in the Philadelphia area.
Hung salon-style in the gallery, the works in Masters of Self-Taught Art are included by historical importance, with pieces from the pre-World War II era. The show highlights seminal artists in the field—many of which have been subjects of recent museum exhibitions and were included in Lynne Cook’s groundbreaking exhibition, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Featured artists include Bill Traylor, who was born enslaved in 1853; William Edmondson, the first African American person to exhibit in a major museum in 1937 at MoMA; and concludes with more recently discovered artists such as Felipe Jesus Consalvos, a Cuban artist known for masterful collages that were found two decades after his passing. Additional presentations of note include works by James Castle (1899-1977), Martín Ramírez (1895-1963), and Joseph Yoakum (1890-1972).
Born profoundly deaf and believed to never have learned to read, write, or sign, James Castle created books, constructions, and drawings on his parents’ farm in Idaho. Known for his profound landscapes and interiors drawn primarily in soot mixed with the artist’s saliva on found paper, Castle also found inspiration in images sourced from popular culture such as cartoons, printed advertisements, and detritus of consumption.
Mexican artist Martín Ramírez’s intricate drawings are ranked among the greatest achievements of American vernacular art, melding religious iconography into surreal spaces to evoke the landscape of his homeland as well as themes of poverty, alienation, and memory. In 1925, Ramírez emigrated to the United States and was arrested for reasons still unclear. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia and remanded to DeWitt State Hospital where he created the 450 works that comprise his known body of work.
Recognized for his fantastical, rich landscapes, Joseph Yoakum began most of his known artwork during the last decade of his life. Drawing from early memories, Yoakum reflects on time spent as a youth traveling in circuses, as a soldier serving with the United States Army during World War I, as a vagabond rail rider, and as a stowaway and stevedore in Asia and Australia.
Masters of Self-Taught Art will be on view through February 10th, 2024.