Focusing on Outsider

The Bonovitz collection is unique in that Jill and Sheldon began focusing on outsider artists relatively early compared to other collectors.

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Collector Spotlight: Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Champions of Outsider Art


The term “outsider artist” is somewhat redundant — many artists exist beyond the periphery of the traditional social order.


Still, the category “outsider art” has been a convenient label to describe art created by those artists working outside of what many would consider society’s standard operating paradigm.


These are generally artists who have received no formal training, do not operate professionally as artists, and have no connection to the mainstream art world.


Like most ontological definitions in art and philosophy, “the edges are blurred,” says Sheldon Bonovitz, who, together with his wife Jill — an extraordinary artist in her own right — has been building one of the world’s most important collections of outsider art since the 1980s. 

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Their formidable collection is well-known throughout the established art world. They’ve been profiled by The New York Times, and 200 works from their collection comprised the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2013 exhibition “Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art From the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection.”


In her review of the exhibition, entitled “No More on the Outside Looking In,” New York Times art critic Roberta Smith hailed the show as serving to break down the walls of museums' reluctance to acknowledge the importance of outsider art in the institutional art world.


The Bonovitz’s have promised a large portion of their collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and they have become bellwether paragons for aspiring cultural patrons.


The term “outsider art” was first coined in 1972 by art critic Roger Cardinal. Initially, it was intended as a synonym for “art brut,” which artist Jean Dubuffet had defined in the 1940s as art outside the mainstream.


According to the Tate, “For Dubuffet, art brut — which included graffiti and the work of the insane, prisoners, children, and primitive artists, was the raw expression of a vision or emotions, untrammeled by convention.” In the United States, the term has a much broader meaning, the most important factor being “self-taught.” paydayloanslowdown payday loan slow down Website

The Bonovitz Collection — The Early Years

The Bonovitz collection is unique in that Jill and Sheldon began focusing on outsider artists relatively early compared to other collectors.


They trace their interest back to one specific exhibition, “Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980,” which they saw at the Corcoran in Washington DC in 1982 (and which later traveled to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, among other institutions).

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