Cultural outsiders becoming insiders is hardly a new phenomenon, least of all in the art world. Witness the current vogue for “outsider art”—works fashioned by the formally untrained and socially marginalized—with its own network of specialized dealers, many of whom tout their artists’ mental illness as a badge of outsider authenticity. Such is the landscape into which “Create” arrives this month at the Boca Museum of Art. A group exhibition originating from the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, featuring more than 135 works by 20 different Bay Area artists, all with developmental disabilities ranging from autism to Down syndrome, “Create” would seem to carry its own share of conceptual baggage. Thankfully, all reservations vanish upon encountering the art in question.
The most impressive pieces in this show are simply striking visual artworks—period. Case in point: James Montgomery’s intricately detailed paintings, which explore time through a hypnotically unfolding array of watches, all seemingly spinning around each other at an accelerated pace; Aurie Ramirez’s arresting portraits of formally clad and Harlequin-masked women; and Bertha Otoya’s drawings summoning an otherworldly air with ominous snakeheads atop a sea of text. It’s tempting to see these pieces as the purest form of art, with its creators freed from—or blissfully unaware of—the considerations and pressures of the marketplace. Yet just as much thought and determination went into this artwork as that which was poured into Art Basel’s wares. “If this exhibition allows people to recalibrate what it means to have a developmental disorder, that would be great,” Boca Museum of Art Director Steven Maklansky explains to Ocean Drive. “But art isn’t just something you hang over your couch. Art is an epistemological way of looking at the world.” And the visions expressed in “Create,” Maklansky adds, more than hold their own against their contemporary art world peers. “Create” opens July 29 at the Boca Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, 561-392-2500