Phyllis Kind, 2006, courtesy of the Phyllis Kind family archives
Portrait of Phyllis Kind, courtesy of Edward M. Gómez
A founding participant in the Outsider Art Fair when it was launched in 1993, Phyllis Kind operated galleries in Chicago and New York, and became a grande dame in the specialized field she did so much to promote. To mark her passing late last year and to honor her legacy, this year’s fair presents a memorial exhibition featuring works by artists whom Kind represented or collected, and which influenced her understanding of art brut and outsider art. This exhibition has been curated by art critic and Raw Vision magazine senior editor Edward M. Gómez, in collaboration with OAF assistant director Allison Galgiani.
From Raw Vision, issue RV100 (winter 2018/2019), available now, at the fair:
Phyllis Kind (1933–2018)
The legendary American art dealer Phyllis Kind, who, over a decades-long career, played a leading role in the development of an international market for the work of art brut and outsider artists, died on September 28, 2018, at her home in San Francisco. She was 85 years old.
Born Phyllis Barbara Cobin in New York in 1933, Kind, whose father was a dentist, and whose mother worked with him, attended the city’s Bronx High School of Science. In the 1950s, she studied chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met her future husband, Joshua Kind. Later, back in New York — now married, with her first child — Phyllis taught elementary school while Joshua pursued doctoral studies in art history; after moving to Chicago, in 1967 the Kinds opened a gallery specializing in Old Master prints. While learning about the art business, Phyllis earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Chicago.
The 1960s and the 1970s were a formative period for Kind, whose aesthetic outlook, like that of many of the contemporary artists with whom she associated, came to embrace a range of offbeat cultural expressions and progressive social trends. In the late 1960s, at Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center, she encountered paintings by Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, and other members of the Hairy Who artists’ group, whose mix of fantasy, humor, and funky eroticism, along with their unabashedly handcrafted quality, offered an antidote to the cool, detached air of East Coast Pop Art. Many of those artists, whose work Kind went on to show, were interested in and collected folk art, outsider art, and vernacular commercial art.
Kind also admired the work of such local painters as Ed Paschke and Roger Brown, artists associated with the so-called Chicago Imagists. She showed their creations at her first Phyllis Kind Gallery, which she opened in Chicago in the 1970s. Later in that decade, she opened a second gallery in New York’s SoHo district. (By now she had become a divorced mother of four.)
Kind became the first dealer in the United States to show the works of “outsider” artists (the term was still new) side by side with those of schooled, contemporary artists. About evaluating artists’ portfolios, she said, “I look for a strong, original vocabulary of form and for evidence that artists are making art not because they might want to but instead because they have to.” Kind presented the work of classic European art brut creators, such as Adolf Wölfli, Carlo Zinelli, and Augustine Lesage, and the remarkable drawings, paintings, and mixed-media works of such notable self-taught artists as Henry
Darger, Howard Finster, Martín Ramírez, Domenico Zindato, and Hiroyuki Doi. (In showing works by Doi, Katsuhiro Terao, and other Japanese artists in theearly 2000s, she became the first dealer in the West to become engaged with East Asia’s still young outsider-art scene.) Her roster of innovative, trained contemporary artists included, among others, William N. Copley, Robert Colescott, Alison Saar, and Gillian Jagger.
Erudite, sassy, and quietly proud of her status as a doyenne of the outsider art field, Kind was an old-school kind of dealer, not merely an art merchant but rather an avid researcher-connoisseur who eagerly shared her enthusiasm for her discoveries. “It distresses me when people just do a figure eight without stopping to really engage with the works on view — or to introduce themselves and chat,” she once said, referring to the way some visitors popped into her New York gallery, spun quickly around its two main rooms, and then departed, only superficially taking in a carefully mounted exhibition’s themes and offerings.
Kind closed her Chicago outlet in 1998 and, in late 2008, suffered a mini-stroke. The next year, she closed her New York space. At that time, the late Ingrid Sischy, a former editor in chief of Artforum, recalled, “The art world had a narrow view of what ‘important’, ‘progressive’, or ‘avant-garde’ was in the 1970s, when [Phyllis] came out swinging. She was unwavering in her support of artists with very unique, independent visions.”
2018 Raw Vision Ltd., all rights reserved; used by permission