Keep Artist Joe Coleman's Work At The 2003 New York Outsider Art Fair sign now

To: Board of Directors, 2003 New York Outsider Art Fair.

We the undersigned as individuals and as a group oppose the exclusion of Brooklyn artist Joe Coleman's work from the upcoming 2003 Outsider Art Fair in New York on January 24-26, 2003.

The Board first attempted to exclude Coleman from the 2002 Outsider Art Fair on the grounds that Mr. Coleman exhibited "an unusual level of awareness of the marketing and sales of his work". The proposal to exclude his work from last year's show was later retracted, and Coleman was represented in the 2002 show.

Coleman's written response to the 2002 attempt to block the artist's work from the Outsider Art Fair came before he was eventually admitted to last year's Fair, but it nonetheless succinctly and eloquently represents the artist's position:

"I don't know if I'm an Outsider. I don't even know if I know what an Outsider is. Certainly I've been called worse things in my life. The art labels I have suffered include: Outsider, Visionary, Low-brow, Folk and Fine artist, all of which roll off me like the heaps of trash pelted at the carnival dodger. Nevertheless, I have always felt that the value of the Outsider Art Fair has been to expose the public to challenging, provocative and raw works of art that they would not find in the mainstream art world venues. I find it extremely ironic that after a lifetime of being excluded from the mainstream art world because my work did not conform to recent trends and polite tastes, that I am now being excluded from an Outsider event. In the committee's memo concerning the banning of my work from the art fair, I am described as "being too aware of the whole business process of selling" my work. It makes me wonder about these anonymous, parasitic art Insiders sitting on their review committee and the fears which would cause them to make such judgements. Are we to assume that they would prefer to deal with someone who is intellectually, physically or emotionally incapable of protecting themselves from being exploited, manipulated, hoodwinked, and/or robbed? -- Joe Coleman, 2002"
(Original link to this statement:

The Board is again attempting to block Coleman's representation in the upcoming 2003 Outsider Art Fair on the same grounds: Coleman exhibits an "unusual, and unacceptable, level of awareness in the sales and marketing of his work". In addition, the Board of Directors has further asserted that their exclusion is based on the position that Coleman is a "schooled" artist, having once attended, the New York School of Visual Arts, from which he was "thrown out", according to the artist.

While Colemans work is technically accomplished to a degree which many "mainstream" artists are not, Coleman is as much an "Outsider" as can be imagined. Rejected by the mainstream art community; utilizing subject-matter gathered from such fringe (i.e. pariah, excluded) areas as the carnival, the freak show, and medical and forensics text books; working against every contemporary trend and school in art, Coleman's work is singular in its exploration of an individual psyche damaged and rejected, exorcising through painting the demons inside the artist's own skull.

Coleman is clearly an "Outsider" and belongs at the Outsider Art Fair if one examines the definitions found in John Maizels' outstanding "Raw Vision" magazine-- arguably the codex and bible of Outsider Art enthusiasts, as well as of the New York Outsider Art Fair itself.

[Raw Vision magazine has featured Joe Coleman on its cover, has religiously reported on the artists career, while at the same time representing and exhibiting their magazine most prominently at the New York Outsider Art Fair since the shows inception.]

Here are some definitions of Outsider Art from an uncredited esssay at Raw Vision magazine's website: "forms of creative expression that exist outside accepted cultural norms, or the realm of 'fine art'" and "works of extreme individuality and inventiveness". Coleman's work fits each of these definitions closely. (see

Further, Outsider Art, and the New York Outsider Art Fair surely encompass the sub-category of "VISIONARY ART AND INTUITIVE ART" which are described in the same essay from Raw Vision's website:

"VISIONARY ART, INTUITIVE ART: Both of these are deliberate umbrella terms, used together they can include almost everything of value in the field, including much tribal art and the urban folk art of the third world, as well as most of the works described above. They are safe and honest general terms that avoid the specifics of Outsider Art or Folk Art (examples: Kox, Coleman)."

The above definition uses Coleman as an example, as well as the artist Norbet Cox-- another Outsider Art Fair regular-- to which we might add Alex Grey, Michel Nedjar, Terry Turrell, Thornton Dial, Chris Hipkiss, Albert Louden, Paul Laffoley and many other "main-stays" at the New York show, who are not only exceptional Outsider artists, but variously sophisticated and "schooled" in their approaches. Why single out Joe Coleman? And why "now", after ten years of Colemans art at the New York Outsider Art Fair?

The definitions and controversy surrounding the Outsider Art Fair's decision are not new. In fact, these issues have been brewing since the fairs inception more than 10 years ago. To make Coleman the Outsider Art Fair's first "martyr" or "scapegoat" is not a good idea, as Coleman's embodiment of the Outsider ethic is so complete that many contemporary critics and dealers consider him to be the most important of all living "Outsider" artists. Indeed, if quality alone were a criteria for entry into the New York show, much of the work shown there over the last ten years would have to be barred.

Raw Vision again:

"The controversy surrounding the exact definition of Outsider Art and allied fields has been going on ever since awareness of the phenomenon began. Whatever views we have about the value of controversy itself, it is important to sustain creative discussion by way of an agreed vocabulary."

We the undersigned argue that by excluding Coleman the Board of Directors has esssentially squelched any such "creative discussion".

Another contemporary source which asks the question "What Is Outsider Art?" admits to the controversy, and comments on the defining element of the New York Outsider Art Fairs Board of Directors decision, i.e. The economic and commercial aspects of Outsider Art:

"Partly it [the term "Outsider Art"] seems to persist for commercial reasons -- demarcating a particular sector of the art market helps to create and sustain it. But it also remains a handy shorthand for work that is liable to reflect different motivations, histories and concerns than that generally produced by art school graduates." (Complete essay at the website ""

What is Colemans main "sin" to the Board of Directors? That Coleman has broken from the Outsider Art 'mainstream' -- and indeed perhaps the mainstream of the art world as a whole -- by taking an active role in the marketing and sales of his work? While many "Outsider" artists are impoverished, indigent members of communities thousands of miles from New York's locus of art sales -- and thereby rely on galleries and representatives who take significant chunks of their earnings simply to afford access to affluent art-buying markets -- Coleman has bypassed the 'gallery sharecropping system'. Thus is the attempted rejection of Colemans art influenced by the fact that he "defies" the Outsider Art Fairs criteria of an artist being represented in every transaction by a dealer?

Where other "Outsider Artists" rely on galleries and dealers for survival, Coleman oftenbut not exclusively-- sells his work to buyers who contact him directly, thus by-passing the traditional system which the Outsider Art Fair relies on to survive as a business. Is there not room at the New York show for an artist whose form of commerce is slightly at odds with the goals of the show, or should the show become merely about "selling from the floor" and nothing else?

Is the existence of the show threatened by Colemans art and own form of commerce? We think not. The show can clearly survive Colemans unique talents and methods of selling his workand has for the past ten years.

In conclusion, we the undersigned, protest Colemans exclusion and banishment from the New York Outsider Art Fair on the grounds that to do so will inhibit the free and open dialogue necessary to sustain the growth of this show and others like it; will potentially deny the Outsider Art enthusiasts, dealers and collectors access to any art the Board of Directors deems "un-Outsiderlike;" and will in effect deny deserving artists like Coleman an appropriate venue to promote and sell their work.

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Latest Signatures

  • 23 November 2015250. Len P
    Zip Code or Country 07033 Art Brut and Outsider Art are not the same thing, and most of today's Outsiders do not fit into the original stringent requirements of Art Brut. Coleman is as far outside the art mainstream as anybody could be. Was Darger not an
  • 20 November 2015249. Mike H
    I support this petition
  • 29 October 2015248. Norm R
    I support this petition
  • 17 October 2015247. Rebecca K
    Zip Code or Country 44107 В
  • 11 October 2015246. Keri S
    I support this petition
  • 08 October 2015245. Bobby L
    Zip Code or Country 94705 It's critical for the public to be exposed to provocative works of art that can/will never be accepted in mainstream venues. That's the Outsider Art Fair's value to the world of art and to us all. It's ironic they reject someone
  • 18 September 2015244. Daemon G
    Zip Code or Country 97219 Hope you get to show your art, Joe
  • 13 September 2015243. Tuomo E
    I support this petition
  • 04 September 2015242. Jade K
    Zip Code or Country 45424 Joe Coleman's artwork blatently displays the grotesque reality of what the guy next door is really capable of. It's fascinating! Joe Coleman is just admitting his fascination, where as most other people wouldn't dare.
  • 01 September 2015241. Steven D
    I support this petition
  • 07 August 2015240. Carolyn W
    I support this petition
  • 08 June 2015239. Wendy S
    I support this petition
  • 18 May 2015238. Nora S
    Zip Code or Country 33433 The Fair has, in the past, helped to publicize and gain respect for the work of both outsider and selftaught contemporary artists. It would be a shame for this decision to stand and further erode respect for the Fair's sponsors
  • 02 May 2015237. Paul S
    I support this petition
  • 27 April 2015236. Chad M
    I support this petition
  • 26 February 2015235. Tod Kemp
    Zip Code or Country Australia freedom of speech through Art
  • 21 February 2015234. Richard S
    I support this petition
  • 02 February 2015233. Alison D
    Zip Code or Country 06040 Let him in!!!!
  • 26 January 2015232. Erica W
    I support this petition
  • 20 January 2015231. Aron Allens
    Zip Code or Country 92651 art
  • 28 December 2014230. Matthew Dc
    I support this petition
  • 19 December 2014229. Christina S
    I support this petition
  • 12 December 2014228. A Andrewg
    I support this petition
  • 21 November 2014227. Adam P
    Zip Code or Country 90013 Whoever decided to keep Joe Coleman out of the Outsider Art Fair is an outsider from their own mind. Joe is the original outsider, and deserves to belong with Henry Darger and other illuminaries of this world. Should Joe be puni
  • 09 November 2014226. Piers M
    Joe Coleman is an astonishingly brilliant artist regardless of any title ('Outsider' etc). More to the point - Ten years of acceptance and then a ban! The longer this goes on - the more 'egg' the Fair gets on their face. The word 'hypocrisy' comes to mind
  • 14 October 2014225. Maria D
    I support this petition
  • 09 October 2014224. Damien Christainl
    Zip Code or Country 33764 freedom of expression?

browse all the signatures


Rachelle RandallBy:
International PolicyIn:
Petition target:
Outsider Art Enthusiasts, Collectors, and Dealers


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