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"Great and Mighty Things": Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection
March 3, 2013 - June 9, 2013
Men Drinking, Boys Tormenting, Dogs Barking
Men Drinking, Boys Tormenting, Dogs Barking, c. 1939-1942
Bill Traylor, American
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"Great and Mighty Things": Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection
March 3, 2013 - June 9, 2013

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The power of self-taught artistic talent, the drive of the human spirit to create, and the wonders of highly original inner worlds revealed. These are just a few of the reasons why the Philadelphia Museum of Art is proud to debut the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, a promised gift to the Museum of more than two hundred works by self-taught artists.

Discover the visual strength and original beauty of these works by twenty-seven untrained American artists, each with a moving personal story, many from disadvantaged, rural backgrounds far removed from the mainstream art world. This exhibition surprises and challenges museum goers, forces examination of the conventional definition of the word "artist," and shows that good art is good art regardless of the maker's résumé. Visitors will see unforgettable works, dating from the 1930s to 2010, by passionate artists who made objects of seductive richness that can stand alongside the best of modern and contemporary art.

What is Outsider Art?
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What is Outsider Art?

What is "outsider" art that it should be given this confusing designation (outside of what?), be treated as a separate entity from mainstream art, and often be shown only in specialized museums and sold by particular galleries? The basic answer is that it is art made by people who have not gone to art school, who usually do not operate professionally or earn their livings as artists, and who create, for the most part, with limited or no connection to the art world and its dealers, galleries, collectors, critics, schools, and museums. Not categorized by styles, movements, or trends, it is art made by individuals who are driven to create by their own particular inner compulsions, which may be visionary, derived from memories, evangelical, or popular-culture inspired. It is almost always strongly influenced by local or regional cultures and often is made from found, homemade, or unusual materials.

The best outsiders produce work that is out of the ordinary, edgy, imaginative, or even obsessive-compulsive. Their creations are frequently raw or crude in execution but masterful in color choices and composition. Many of these self-taught artists create large-scale "environments," some of which derive from the southern African American yard-art tradition.

Recognized as a specific field from the early twentieth century in Europe—at that time associated with the art of the mentally ill—and in America since the 1930s and 1940s, outsider art is now a global phenomenon, albeit a minor one within the full spectrum of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. It occupies a position parallel to but not identical with mainstream modern and contemporary art.

Gallery Tour


The exhibition is sponsored by Comcast Corporation and Duane Morris. Generous support for the exhibition is also provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Capital Solutions, Credit Suisse, William B. Dietrich Foundation, Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, Christie's, PNC Bank, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer and Joe Neubauer, Ralph and Suzanne Roberts and Brian and Aileen Roberts, Erik and Tammy Bonovitz, Christopher Bonovitz and Kate Dunn, John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Steve and Gretchen Burke, Christina and Lance Funston, Lynne and Harold Honickman, Dr. Sankey V. Williams and Constance H. Williams, Catherine R. and Anthony A. Clifton, Marjorie and Jeffrey Honickman, John J. Medveckis, Mrs. J. Maxwell Moran, Lisa S. Roberts and David W. Seltzer, Peggy and Ellis Wachs, Margie and Bryan Weingarten, and other generous individuals. Support for the catalogue is provided by Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz.


Ann Percy, Curator of Drawings


Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor