A Look into Jonathan Demme’s History of Collecting Outsider Art


Obituaries and tributes have been pouring in after the death of Jonathan Demme. Besides his renown as a first-rate director of feature films and documentaries, he was also a leading collector of Haitian art [see previous post]. As an expression of my most heartfelt condolences to my dear friend and co-blogger, Lisa, and the family members of this visionary director, here are excerpts from “A Look into Jonathan Demme’s History of Collecting Outsider Art” by Nate Freeman (ARTNEWS):

[. . .] But Demme was also a prominent collector of outsider art, primarily work by self-trained artists in Haiti. He began collecting in 1986 when he discovered work at a gallery near his apartment on the West Side of Manhattan, and soon started making frequent visits to the island, often commissioning work by local artists. By the time he decided to sell 80 percent of his collection—over 1,000 works—at an auction in Philadelphia in 2014, he was one of the world’s leading Haitian art devotees. The auction was estimated to bring in over a million, and much of that was donated to a cultural center in Port au Prince.

When asked by a local news outlet about his collecting habits around the time of the sale, he referred to his practice as an “addiction.” [. . .]  Among the artists he collected were Hector Hyppolite, the famed mid-century Haitian Voudo priest whose work was celebrated by Truman Capote, Andre Breton, and Wifredo Lam. A large Hyppolite work at the auction sold for $43,000. He also collected work by Edger Jean-Baptiste, as well as American outsider artists such as Laura Pope Forrester, Victor Joseph Gatto, and Tony Fitzpatrick, who he met on the street in the East Village and went on to cast in bit parts in his films.

Work from his collection was often shown in exhibitions devoted to Haitian art. “Island on Fire: Passionate Visions of Haiti From the Collection of Jonathan Demme,” was on view at Equitable Gallery on 51st Street in New York in the summer of 1997, and more recently, in 2009, the French Institute/Alliance Francaise on 60th Street presented “Jonathan Demme Collection: Inspiration of Haitian Art.” Work in the 2014 auction was on view at Philadelphia’s Material Culture in a show called “Direct from the Eye: The Jonathan Demme Collection of Self-Taught Art.” [. . .]

[Painting above: Hector Hyppolite, “Birds and Flowers” (1946-47), which was in the collection of Jonathan Demme before selling at auction in 2014.]

For full review, see http://www.artnews.com/2017/04/26/a-look-into-jonathan-demmes-history-of-collecting-outsider-art/

Also see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/movies/jonathan-demme-dead-movie-director-oscar-winner.html, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/04/26/us/ap-us-obit-jonathan-demme.html and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/arts/music/jonathan-demme-music-moments.html

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