The exhibition Beyond the Establishment
is the Russian Museum's first major attempt to showcase the works of self-taught artists with disabilities, mental disorders and/or psychiatric experience right next to recognized works of contemporary art, that is, to include them within a global artistic context.
Viewers may wonder why these particular artists were chosen. What do they have in common apart from social criteria? In my opinion, each of the represented artists has their own recognizable visual style. All of them are independent creative agents. Their visual language has been formed through their life experience and reflects their own thoughts and desires rather than the demands of the art market. And the fact that such diverse artists can be seen in one exhibition clearly shows that there is no universal style for artists with disabilities, mental disorders and/or psychiatric experience, just as there is no such thing for normotypical artists.
The title Beyond the Establishment
is an attempt to move away from discriminatory terms used in art theory. There is no suitable Russian term to define art created by people belonging to minority groups. The terms art brut
and outsider art
, which sounded natural at the time when they were invented, now seem outdated, but researchers still use them for lack of anything better.
The term art brut
was invented by the artist Jean Dubuffet in the middle of the twentieth century to define his own work and the pieces from his collection. According to Dubuffet, only art that meets certain requirements warrants this term: "Art brut
is a purely free, spontaneous, instinctive (brut
) artistic process, all stages of which are reinvented by the artist based solely on his own internal motives and impulses ... And consequently, it is art (art
) in which only invention and fantasy are manifested, as opposed to the chameleons and monkeys that are inherent in cultural art."
The fact that art brut
focused on the aesthetics of artworks rather than the medical or social characteristics of their artists was a real breakthrough and brought the term from the margins to a new level of recognition in Western countries.
But since only Dubuffet himself and the staff of the Collection de l'Art Brut that he established in Lausanne could determine what belonged to art brut
and what did not, the term acquired a closed, exclusive character. Perhaps it is for this reason that the term outsider art
, proposed in 1972 by Roger Cardinal as an English-language synonym for art brut
, has become more common in the world.
Yet over time, the term outsider art
has absorbed a huge range of art forms: the art of children, indigenous peoples, residents of remote villages, women, prisoners, people with mental disabilities, tattoos, folk crafts, amateur art, etc. It indicates the social status of artists, which no longer seems appropriate in the 21st century when "contemporary art is freed from all qualifications and willingly accepts everyone." Outsider art
was needed to introduce a new phenomenon for the establishment, but now, due to the vagueness of its boundaries, it has turned into a marketing tool: a way of positioning the works of socially marginalized artists within the art market.
The title Beyond the Establishment
partly follows the same path of romanticizing the distinctiveness of minority groups, and this is intentional. Our goal is to raise the ethical questions of accepting people with disabilities. What does it mean to achieve symbolic inclusion? And how much does symbolic inclusion contribute to achieving real inclusion? The question still remains open, but it seems to me that using the right expressions contributes to increasing the symbolic status of the art of minority groups.
I think the most appropriate expressions are "art of people with disabilities", "art of people with mental disabilities", "art of self-taught artists," or "art of amateur artists". These terms do not bear the stamp of aesthetic selection, as in the term art brut
, but reflect social reality honestly.
I would like to believe that one day society will reach such a level of inclusion that special terms like these will not be required, and that everything worthy of being called art will be called as such, without additional explanations. But since this is not yet the case, we must look for the most neutral options.
Thanks to the efforts of Jean Dubuffet, Roger Cardinal, and other representatives of this art form, there are more than 400 galleries and museums in the West that exhibit artists with physical and mental disabilities and experiences with psychiatric illness. Their works are included in the collections of the largest museums of the world. (For more information, see Anna Suvorova's article
The situation is different in our country. In the Soviet era, the visual language of many artists who received treatment in mental hospitals was very far from the standards of beauty imposed by the authorities, and besides this visual language could sometimes be close to that of the Western avant-garde artists, "ideologically alien to the soviet man
". Accordingly, this art was not approved by the regime and was available only to a narrow circle of specialists in psychiatric fields, who, due to the specificities of professional optics, viewed it from a pragmatic point of view as a method for diagnosing psychiatric disorders. Art critics were not allowed into this field, and therefore such a tradition of art criticism and recognition as that in the West did not form.
Museum workers attribute this lag behind the West to a lack of researchers on the works of artists with mental disabilities. Researchers, in turn, lament the lack of artists, and therefore material, on which to write scholarly works, while in Europe and America, the selection of artists is very large. At the same time, many Russian artists with disabilities, experiences of psychiatric illness, and mental disorders live in closed facilities and do not possess the proper working conditions.