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Art Unsolved: the Outsider Collection at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

The first major exhibition of Outsider art to be seen in Ireland opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Saturday 13 June. Art Unsolved comprises more than 200 works by some 70 artists. Although from widely diverging backgrounds, all share a lack of formal art training, a powerful creative imagination and a fascination with the spiritual and mythological world. The exhibition is drawn from the Outsider Collection, established in London by the late Victor Musgrave and curated by Monika Kinley since 1984. The Collection is on loan to the Museum for a period of two years.

The exhibition is international in scope with works by artists from as far afield as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the US and Australia. These include enormous drawings by the British artist Madge Gill, who worked compulsively at night, in darkness under the influence of a spiritual force which she called Myrninerest; exquisite sculptures made from pieces of wood collected from river mouths and beaches by the French artist Pascal Verbena, and a dinner and tea service decorated by the Glasgow-born Outsider Scottie Wilson whose works were collected by Picasso, Dubuffet and André Breton. The personal stories behind many of the works are equally compelling. That of Dusan Kusmic is not untypical. Born in the former Yugoslavia, he was brought to Dublin by the Red Cross in 1950. His traumatic experiences as a refugee in a displaced persons camp in Italy and his battles with language difficulties, poverty and social isolation, led him to create works using wallpaper, found objects and even food. For him, as for other Outsiders, the process of making art was a lifeline.

The search for and collection of Outsider art began almost 50 years ago with the French artist Jean Dubuffet, who characterised it as Art Brut (raw art). The precise definition of Outsider art has been the subject of much debate. Victor Musgrave described Outsider artists as “knowing little of cultural history or of the tradition of fine art. They draw their inspiration from within; the rules and taboos which trained artists cannot help being aware of have no meaning for them. They work spontaneously and often with great energy to produce images of remarkable power and freshness.”

The Outsider Collection was established in 1981 by the British writer, film-maker and gallery director Victor Musgrave, following the success of the Outsider Exhibitions, which he initiated and co-curated with Roger Cardinal at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1979. The Collection was to have formed the nucleus of a proposed public museum of Outsider art. At the time of his death in 1984, before his ambitions for the Archive had been fully realised, he expressed the wish that his companion Monika Kinley should continue the work of forming a representative collection to be made available to the public.

This international collection now consists of over 750 works. There is an extensive library and slide collection, and an ever growing volume of unique archival material, all of which will be located at the Irish Museum of Modern Art for the next two years. The Outsider Archive has now achieved charitable status as the Victor Musgrave Outsider Trust.

A book entitled Art Unsolved: The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection, with essays by Jon Thompson and Dawn Ades, will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

The Outsider Archive Exhibition continues until 14 October 1998.