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5 Outstanding Artists From ‘Super-Rough,’ the Experimental Exhibition Takashi Murakami Curated for the Outsider Art Fair

June 17, 2021

Shinichi Sawada in 'Super-Rough' at the Outsider Art Fair

Multiple works by Shinichi Sawada, from Venus Over Manhattan and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, in “Super-Rough.” Photo by Ben Davis.

Ben Davis

“Super-Rough” is a pop-up, one-off extension of the Outsider Art Fair that displays a curated selection of highlights from galleries associated with the event.

The hook for me is that I love this material. The hook from a broader cultural perspective is that the show was overseen by Takashi Murakami, the Japanese neo-pop artist famous for his collabs with fashion brands and stars like Billie Eilish (and sometimes, both, as in the recent Murakami x Eilish x Uniqlo T-shirt line).

The main novel installation device here is to show all the work arrayed together on one long waist-height display pedestal, a kind of buffet sampling of Outsider Art Fair fare. A few more spectacular works and larger sculptures are dotted around the edges, but mainly we are talking about a crowd of small, tabletop objects: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s remarkable little chicken bone thrones; Jordan Laura MacLachlan’s quietly surreal painted clay figures; the artist known as Jerry the Marble Faun’s limestone beast heads.

Talking to the New York Times, Murakami is endearingly effusive about the work. The name “Super-Rough” is a reversal of “Superflat,” the long ago title of an art exhibition that made Murakami’s brand of anime-inflected pop famous, and that also stood as shorthand for his theory of the cultural dynamics of post-war Japanese visual culture. I’m not sure, however, that he has quite as much of a theory of the material he’s marshaling here

After circling the display a few times, I began to regret slightly the lack of attention on individual artists. Whether it’s because of Murakami’s pop sensibility—pop art being art relating to popular culture, which doesn’t really need a lot of explanation—or the event’s role as an extension of a commercial fair, the only contextualizing material on hand is a checklist with prices. (I should say: the online viewing room is a little more helpful.)

These are interesting figures—but not always easy ones to research outside of combing back issues of Raw Vision magazine. They tend toward personal, idiosyncratic ways of working—that’s part of this type of work’s pleasure—and there’s a benefit to knowing something about where they are coming from. The show’s knowing elevation of a yard sale is fun, but it doesn’t do anything to make entering the work easier.

Here’s a joke. Q: “Did you manage to get to know any artists you liked at Murakami’s Outsider Art Fair show?” A: “I did—but it was super-rough!”

This is a technical gripe though, and a boring one. If you are interested at all in the Outsider Art Fair as a proposition, the show offers a tableful of starting points for things to get excited about. I recommend it.

Here’s a guide to a few figures I came away wanting to know more about.

Shinichi Sawada

I got to see a bunch of Sawada’s delightful clay creatures recently at Venus Over Manhattan, but it’s a delight to find them again here (they were also featured in the 2013 Venice Biennale). The artist, who is on the autism spectrum, has an immediately recognizable style. It evokes the frozen exaggerations of ceremonial masks or props for a festival of imagined creatures

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