Victor Keen began his first serious collection in the mid-1970s, acquiring Catalin radios, made from a phenolic resin used in household items from the 1930s to ’50s. Over the years, he has collected antique toys and banks, milk glass, toasters, and vintage posters, but it was his friendship with gallerist Frank Maresca of Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York that first sparked his interest in outsider art in the late ’70s. That interest was furthered at the Duane Morris law offices in Philadelphia, where Keen worked surrounded by art from the outsider art collection of Sheldon Bonovitz, works which hung on the firm’s walls.
Throughout the years, Keen has developed an expansive, growing collection of exemplary works of outsider art. From works of historical art brut (raw art) by Adolf Wölfi, to works by Southern African American artists like Bill Traylor and Thornton Dial, to contemporary self-taught artists Ken Grimes and Jim Bloom, Keen’s collection spans the breadth of the genre, with particular focus on James Castle and George Widener. Since 2012, the collection has been housed in Philadelphia’s Bethany Mission Gallery, a former Quaker meeting house and school that Keen opens to performing arts groups and for community events.
“Visitors to my Bethany Mission Gallery often ask what it was that attracted me to the world of outsider art. Like others, I have found the question challenging and have concluded that, to a large extent, the allure is visceral and not easily articulated. It’s a question as complex as the much-debated question of how best to refer to the art itself. “Outsider,” “self-taught,” “naïve,” “visionary,” “untrained” are terms variously used, and no one term seems entirely satisfactory. For convenience, I refer to “outsider” art and “outsider” artists as a shorthand, with the understanding that others may favor other descriptives. The biographical narrative of every outsider artist is unique, but most share one or more of the following: no or only limited art training and living with mental or physical infirmities, poverty, educational deficit or being held back by racial discrimination. I have found these aspects of the outsider art world compelling, including the almost always terribly challenging and unfortunate variations in the individual artists’ personal circumstances, circumstances from which the art often flourishes. But personal challenges for the artists aside, the art stands on its own.”
Intuit is pleased to share with its audiences Outsider Art: The Collection of Victor F. Keen, organized by Victor Keen and Bethany Mission Gallery in partnership with the two exhibiting venues, Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, located in Keen’s native Pueblo, Colo., and Intuit. Further support was provided by Janet and Craig Duchossois.
Explore the exhibition with WTTW Chicago Tonight
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Get a closer look
- A Virtual Tour Inside Chicago’s Center for Outsider Art, WTTW Chicago Tonight
- 11 can’t-miss exhibits at Chicago museums in 2020, Choose Chicago
- A discerning eye, Chicago Sun-Times
- Outsider Art: The Collection of Victor F. Keen, Chicago Reader
- Weekend Art Highlights, Chicago Gallery News
- Outsider art master artists fill Intuit’s galleries, ArtDaily
- Intuiting the Figure, New Art Examiner