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The eye must eat, too: Wall to wall art in NYC

Just before Christmas I sat down to interview Karen Gadbois about her smart/naive pillows and found I was also interviewing the founder of the investigative journal The Lens. It happened again this week when I interviewed Caroline Kerrigan Lerch, Director of The Metro Show (January 23-26 in NYC) and learned over coffee that she was also the founder of the Outsider Art Fair.

For 10 years I’d yearned to go to NYC to see this show of artists who are untrained and untamed, unfamiliar with current art trends, but who just HAD to make art, art that was bursting with color and liveliness. These are artists who are not looking for a gallery, fame, or fortune. Often they’ve worked at tough physical jobs their entire lives and start making art when they retire. They use whatever materials are at hand: a ballpoint pen, a pad of old ledger paper, a child’s watercolor set, a charred piece of wood for charcoal, old chair legs for sculpting totems. So I felt like I was having coffee with a major force in the art world. The star power that resides (and sometimes hides) in this town is amazing.

Caroline grew up here, but just returned in 2011 when she was hired by the Art Fair Company to launch and develop the Metro Show. After getting a master's degree from Ole Miss, she spent years producing art fairs, including the Outsider Fair, developed with a colleague for a company in NYC. She also lived in Berlin for five years with her German husband and two kids. She definitely doesn’t look old enough to have done so much!

This week in New York City is known as Americana Week, and it’s filled with a lot more than the stars and stripes. There’s The Metro Show, The Armory Antiques Show, The New York Ceramics Fair, The Winter Antiques Show, galleries and museums around town focused on American and decorative arts, and insanely great auctions at Christies and Sotheby’s. The only Americana I can afford is a Snickers Bar, but that doesn’t matter; I’m a glutton for eye candy.

First The Metro Show. What’s new this year is the mix, very eclectic. There will be outsider art, but there will also be contemporary art, ancient to contemporary textiles, and yes, some stars and stripes. What I think will make each booth so interesting this year is “Metro Curates.” Instead of each exhibitor making a fine arrangement of their pieces, Metro Curates has asked them to create their booths by choosing a theme; the theme could be all one artist or several artists who hang together thematically. They’ll get to discuss the thinking behind their selection via Booth Talks that will take place throughout the days of the show. Styles range from contemporary art to American Indian textiles and illustrations. Just Folk, a California gallery, debuts 28 works by Bill Traylor (1854-1947) that have been out of public view for more than 15 years.

'Black Dog Running,' by Bill Traylor
'Black Dog Running,' by Bill Traylor

In artist Michael Noland’s Night Harvest, the theme "Compelled by the Forces of Nature" is on vivid display in the booth of American Primitive Gallery.

Michael Noland's 'Night Harvest'
Michael Noland's 'Night Harvest'

New York-based Ricco/Maresca will feature works by contemporary self-taught artist George Widener and iconic outsider and self-taught artist Martín Ramírez.

Untitled work by Martin Ramirez
Untitled work by Martin Ramirez

And then The Metro Show offers even more. On Friday and Saturday a lecture series titled “COLLECTICISM” begins with extraordinary speakers from the Smithsonian, the Venice Biennale, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s all about collecting art in a new, more open way. It used to be that if you were a collector, you’d stay within your narrow interest ... there’s a new freedom in the air that crosses borders. Collect what you love and mix all categories if they work together.

“What’s American About American Decorating?” is one of several DESIGNER EVENTS, this one a conversation between celebrated interior designer Clodagh and marketing guru Ilene Shaw.

I don’t know how I’m ever going to leave the Metropolitan Pavillion (125 West 18th Street) to see all the other events in town, but this is where I begin. I found a cheap flight and very reasonable hotel (for NYC) on jetsetter.com.

Solange Knopf, 'Spirit Codex No. 3'
Solange Knopf, 'Spirit Codex No. 3,' from the Calvin Morris Gallery
Navajo Serape, circa 1870, from David Cook Galleries
Navajo Serape, circa 1870, from David Cook Galleries
Yutaka Yoshinaga, from Perimeter Gallery

Yutaka Yoshinaga, from Perimeter Gallery

The Metro Show

  • The Metropolitan Pavillion, 125 W 18th St., New York, NY
  • Wed. January 22 - Public Preview Party ($75) 7-9pm
  • Thurs. January 23 - Sunday, January 26 - Show open to the public. Show Hours: 11 am-7 pm Thus.-Sat/noon-5:30 on Sunday
  • www.metroshownyc.com

Carol Pulitzer is an award-winning writer and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine Magazine, and Country Living among others. She writes and illustrates super short stories at her Little Theatre blog ( littletheatre1.com ) and can be contacted at [email protected]