For today’s bumper crop of degree-toting, ready-made “insider” artists, the outsider artist remains an alluring exotic; his or her apparent distance from the commercial and social responsibilities that are the machinery of the art industry are viewed by many as a badge of credibility. Paul Chan regularly references the art of Henry Darger, the posthumously reigning kingpin of outsider art, while Marcel Dzama’s quietly deranged tableaux would blend seamlessly into New York’s Outsider Art Fair, sharing a sensibility with a host of practitioners who are self-taught, mentally disturbed, or just too eccentric to be integrated into the mainstream art world.
Recently “discovered” artist Charles Steffen now seems poised to enter this canon of the previously unassimilable. All the work he made before 1989 has been destroyed, though a prescient nephew salvaged his late output. Residing in Chicago
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