A Virtual Tour Inside Chicago’s Center for Outsider Art


As part of our new series of virtual tours, we’re visiting some Chicago arts institutions braving the current storm on the cultural landscape. 

For 29 years one small but significant place has been a showcase for visionary artwork. (And that is literal – some of the artists claim to have had visions.)

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The art center called Intuit had to close a new show last month, and we got a look at what you’ll see when it one day reopens. 

TRANSCRIPT

Marc Vitali: Bill Traylor was a self-taught American artist, born into slavery, whose artwork has been compared to Picasso.

  • James Edward Deeds (American, 1908-1987). Cotton Gin (side 116 of two-sided drawing Junetta/Cotton Gin 115/116), c. 1936-66. Graphite and crayon on ledger paper, 9 ¼ x 8 3/8 in. (23.5 x 21.3 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

    James Edward Deeds (American, 1908-1987). Cotton Gin (side 116 of two-sided drawing Junetta/Cotton Gin 115/116), c. 1936-66. Graphite and crayon on ledger paper, 9 ¼ x 8 3/8 in. (23.5 x 21.3 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

  • Howard Finster (American, 1916-2001). Visionary Landscape #4,494, 1985. Paint on wood, 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen

    Howard Finster (American, 1916-2001). Visionary Landscape #4,494, 1985. Paint on wood, 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen

  • Bill Traylor (American, c. 1853-1949). Man and Bird on Woven Form, c. 1939. Colored pencil on cardboard, 14 x 9 in. (35.6 x 22.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen

    Bill Traylor (American, c. 1853-1949). Man and Bird on Woven Form, c. 1939. Colored pencil on cardboard, 14 x 9 in. (35.6 x 22.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen

  • Bill Traylor (American, ca. 1853-1949). Chicken Stealing, c. 1939-42. Poster paint on cardboard, 13 ¼ x 7 in. (33.7 x 17.8 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

    Bill Traylor (American, ca. 1853-1949). Chicken Stealing, c. 1939-42. Poster paint on cardboard, 13 ¼ x 7 in. (33.7 x 17.8 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

  • George Widener (American, b.1962). CATCH 22, 2013. Mixed media on joined paper, 83 ½ x 59 in. (212.1 x 149.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

    George Widener (American, b.1962). CATCH 22, 2013. Mixed media on joined paper, 83 ½ x 59 in. (212.1 x 149.9 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

  • Adolf Wölfli (Swiss, 1864-1930). Untitled (Christ Figure with Serpent), c. 1915-16. Colored pencil and graphite on paper, 11 x 8 ½ in. (27.9 x 21.6 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

    Adolf Wölfli (Swiss, 1864-1930). Untitled (Christ Figure with Serpent), c. 1915-16. Colored pencil and graphite on paper, 11 x 8 ½ in. (27.9 x 21.6 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

Howard Finster was a Baptist minister who painted what he titled “visionary landscapes” – as well as album covers for REM and Talking Heads.

Lee Godie was a homeless Chicagoan who made art on the steps of the Art Institute.

Intuitive artwork like theirs has been labeled “raw” or “primitive” – but like most labels, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition. 

Intuit, on Milwaukee Avenue in River West, has an inclusive approach to what is most commonly called “outsider art.”

Martín Ramírez (Mexican, active in America, 1895–1963). Untitled (Trains and Tunnels) A, B, (detail), c. 1960–63. Graphite, gouache, crayon and colored pencil on pieced paper, 17 x 78 in. (43.2 x 198.1 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen. Copyright Estate of Martín Ramírez Martín Ramírez (Mexican, active in America, 1895–1963). Untitled (Trains and Tunnels) A, B, (detail), c. 1960–63. Graphite, gouache, crayon and colored pencil on pieced paper, 17 x 78 in. (43.2 x 198.1 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen. Copyright Estate of Martín Ramírez 

Annaleigh Wetzel, Intuit — The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art: How we define “outsider art” here at Intuit is in essence artists who operate outside of the mainstream art world, Rather than their work being informed by the art establishment, they have a personal vision that they are compelled to create from. They often don’t have access to traditional art-making materials or fancy art supplies, but rather they use what they have at hand.

Vitali: That could mean scrap metal or window-shade canvases. One artist made meticulous drawings on stationary from his home at a state hospital.

Chicago is known as one of the first places in the United States to accept and embrace outsider artists.

That interest was sparked by a 1951 visit to the Arts Club of Chicago by French artist Jean Dubuffet. A receptive audience heard Dubuffet champion what he called “art brut,” meaning “raw art.”

All of the works in this exhibition come from the authoritative collection of Victor Keen. 

Jim Bloom (American, b. 1968). The Rushed Hushed Compassion of Dr. Denang, n.d. Mixed media on canvas, 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen Jim Bloom (American, b. 1968). The Rushed Hushed Compassion of Dr. Denang, n.d. Mixed media on canvas, 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

Intuit has several shows each year, which can include some of the 1,200 works in their permanent collection.

One installation always on view is a window into the world of Henry Darger. Darger was a reclusive Chicago janitor who wrote a 15,000-page illustrated story about an army of girls escaping slavery.

His one-bedroom apartment and studio is recreated here with original furniture and possessions.

Intuit’s doors may be currently closed to the public, but daily visits by staff ensure the care and maintenance of this uncommon collection.

They’re looking toward the future.

Lee Godie (American, 1908-1994). Three Hands on a Piano, n.d. Watercolor and ink on paper, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Ellyn in Profile, n.d. Watercolor and ink on paper, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen Lee Godie (American, 1908-1994). Three Hands on a Piano, n.d. Watercolor and ink on paper, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Ellyn in Profile, n.d. Watercolor and ink on paper, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Collection of Victor F. Keen 

Wetzel: I think Intuit, because of our small size — we’re lean but mean — we are in a way uniquely positioned to hopefully come out stronger on the other side of all this.

We’re really excited to welcome guests back into our space when that is safe for everybody, and in the meantime we’ll continue to create more and more content so that folks can engage with us online.

Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts


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