John Perreault

  • “Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century”

    By any measure, outsider art is now an established category. It boasts curators, scholars, and collectors; books and magazines (Raw Art); exhibitions (e.g., 1992’s “Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art” at the LA County Museum of Art), expositions (the Outsider Art Fair in New York City and others in Atlanta and Baltimore); and even a museum, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The separate-but-sort-of-equal distinction begs the question of what makes outsider art “outsider”? Level of skill or education doesn’t really seem at issue: not all “insider” artists are schooled,

  • Through a Glass Darkly

    THE FRACTURES, FISSURES, TRACES, and oddities of language can in themselves be critical tools. That many words have double, triple, and even quadruple uses, and therefore meanings, is a commonplace. Punsters and poets take advantage of this. Dictionaries, on the other hand, insist upon the differentiation of uses, even to the extent of ranking them numerically and declaring some specialized or archaic. When we dedifferentiate these meanings, of course, we reveal repressed identities.

    Let’s take a look at a very curious word: display. In general usage, it seems to mean the favorable presentation

  • George Sugarman

    Pedestals lift and protect sculptures, guarding them from the clumsy and the clumsy from them. But pedestals, besides signaling “beware” or “look,” tend to enforce a false unity. Why must sculpture, unlike life, be so self-contained? Beginning in the early ’60s, sculpture came down off its pedestal. Some give credit to Anthony Caro for this move; a rougher, more dramatic, and perhaps more influential leap was accomplished almost simultaneously by a yet-underacknowledged American, George Sugarman. Doing away with the pedestal and its traditional distancing may have been a notion whose time had


    What on earth is wrong with clay? There is still prejudice against clay as an art material. Clay, or (in its ideal form ) AI2O32SiO362H2O, has useful and magical properties: when raw it is pliable; when “cooked” it has a hardness that can approach its rock origins. It can be coated with mineral oxides and fired again until the surface fuses into a glasslike, impenetrable glaze. Coiled, pinched up from the sides, molded or thrown on to a wheel it can be made into pots. Pots! That’s what it is. The prejudice against clay is the prejudice against pots and—dreaded term—the crafts.1


  • Not All Chairs Are Equal

    CAN A CHAIR BE ART? On the face of it, this seems to be a simple question. But when we attempt to answer it, it becomes clear that we must deal with complex issues: hierarchies, contexts, taxonomies, definitions and even philosophies of art. This apparently simple question has no easy answer; instead, if there are answers, these would have to be formulated by the use of introductory conditional clauses. Yet even these conditional answers fan out into further complexities.

    If we believe, for instance, that modernism implies a certain purification of each high-art category (i.e., that sculpture

  • I’m Asking—Does It Exist? What Is It? Whom Is It For?

    RECENTLY YOU HAVE BEEN writing a great deal about gay art and gay issues. When you wrote about the Marsden Hartley retrospective at the Whitney Museum, you emphasized the newly published information that Hartley was homosexual.1 You also contributed a piece to a Soho News supplement called Is There Gay Culture?2 and you devoted a fair amount of space to the recent lesbian show at the Hibbs Gallery.3

    The subject just keeps coming up. It also came up when I was interviewed by the Artworkers News.4 But let’s not exaggerate. I write a great deal and I talk a great deal and I have written and talked

  • False Objects: Duplicates, Replicas and Types

    The relation . . . to object is by no means only one of possession or usage. No, that would be too simple. It’s much worse.

    Objects are outside of feeling, of course; however, they are also the leadweight in our head.

    It’s a question of a relation to the accusative.1
    —Francis Ponge

    THE POSSIBILITY OF NONOBJECTNESS was a key concern of much late-’60s art that aspired to antiformalist originality and some kind of sociocultural criticism. Such criticism, in retrospect, was of an ineffective sort, since nominally nonobject works were quickly and easily assimilated by the very art system they seemed to

  • Issues in Pattern Painting

    PATTERN PAINTING IS NON-MINIMALIST, non-sexist, historically conscious, sensuous, romantic, rational, decorative. Its methods, motifs, and referents cross cultural and class lines. Virtually everyone takes some delight in patterning, the modernist taboo against the decorative notwithstanding. As a new painting style, pattern painting, like patterning itself, is two-dimensional, nonhierarchical, allover, a-centric, and aniconic. It has its roots in modernist art, but contradicts some of the basic tenets of the faith, attempting to assimilate aspects of Western and non-Western culture not previously