Sunday, February 20, 2000
Discovering Art With the Aura Of the Outsider
By Edward M. Gomez
With a background in music, chemistry and 18th-century English literature, Phyllis Kind became an art dealer by accident.
That was in Chicago, 35 years ago, when her former husband, an art historian, plunged into selling prints. Time passed, the couple divorced, and Ms. Kind kept the business. In 1975, she opened a New York branch of the gallery that now bore her name. She began using it as a showcase for her dogged efforts to investigate and promote outsider art, which she had begun to explore with the Chicago Imagists, along with that of contemporary artists. (Last year she finally closed her Chicago outpost.)
Now Ms. Kind is unveiling drawings by Domenico Zindato, her latest discovery of a contemporary artist whose work displays a strong outsider sensibility. At her gallery, in SoHo, Mr. Zindato's show will run concurrently with that of the Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs, whose big new canvases are steeped in art-historical references and have a homoerotic air. They could not be more different from Mr. Zindato's intimately scaled dreamscapes. Both shows remain on view through April 1.
"Attila and Domenico are friends who admire each other's work," Ms. Kind said during a recent interview at her Greene Street space. Her office's walls, sofa and shelves are filled with drawings by outsider-art luminaries like Adolf Wolfli and Carlo and Martin Ramirez, and canvases that Ms. Kind lately has been "living with and studying," vaguely surreal works by a Texas artist, Valton Tyler.
"Attila introduced Domenico to me two years ago," Ms. Kind said as her fingers waded through a sea of papers on her shiny black desk. "I thought it would be interesting to present them simultaneously, to see how these two bodies of work might communicate with each other and what kind of energy people may feel between them."
Mr. Lukacs, who is 37, grew up in Calgary, Alberta. He studied at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and moved to Berlin in 1986. There, he produced large oil paintings of skinhead youths in sexually charged urban settings. With their graffiti-strewn walls, and whiffs of decadence and danger, Mr. Lukacs's Berlin pictures helped establish his reputation as a purveyor of gritty-sumptuous fantasy.
"In Berlin, Domenico and I hung out in the clubs," recalled Mr. Lukacs, who keeps a studio in the West Village. "That's where I met him and saw his work, and once I started looking at it, I kept noticing all these fascinating little details." Canvases for Mr. Lukacs's new show leaned against the walls of his cavernous space, whose floor was littered with paint-splattered art books and pages from old muscle-man magazines. Evoking mythological rites of passage, with oddly shifting perspectives, Mr. Lukacs's new paintings are inspired by Persian and Indian miniatures and by the studied order of Renaissance composition. Depicting imaginary wild boys and strange man-beasts, they constitute what he calls "The Garden Series."
Mr. Zindato, who is 34, lives and works in Mexico City. He was born in southern Italy, where his family urged him to become a lawyer, like his father and his sister. He briefly attended law school in Rome, but hated it and switched to theater and cinema studies. Painting and drawing all the while, in the late 1980's he moved to Milan, then to Berlin, in soul-searching pursuit of his artistic identity. Speaking by telephone from Mexico as he readied his first New York show, Mr. Zindato sounded wistful about his emotionally rocky, rambunctious past.
"Berlin was an island where anything was permitted, and I was excessive and eccentric in my colored shoes and weird pants," Mr. Zindato said. "I did a kind of cabaret act that was a bit Dada and a bit surreal, with my own mix of pop and classical music, and I was even the manager of a disco. I had heard of Attila. Eventually we met and both showed at the same gallery, called Boudoir." By 1992, Mr. Lukacs had shown his art around Europe, and the Diane Farris Gallery in Vancouver had become his Canadian representative. Five years later, he landed his first solo show at Ms. Kind's gallery and moved to New York.
Always restless and often fighting bouts of debilitating depression, Mr. Zindato left Berlin for India in 1992, returned the next year, then bolted again, this time for Mexico, where he gravitated toward the capital. "For a while I lived in the historic center," said Mr. Zindato, who speaks Italian, English, French and fluent, Mexican-accented Spanish. "In the museums, I saw the masterpieces of Mexican art, and Aztec and Olmec sculpture. I soaked it all up." Today, he said, he generally lives a quiet life, showing and selling his work through Mexico City galleries like Uno Dos Siete.
"I caught up with Domenico when he visited New York in 1997 and showed me his latest drawings," Mr. Lukacs said. "Right away I thought Phyllis should see them." But the dealer was preoccupied with other business and could not immediately examine Mr. Zindato's portfolio.
"They literally sat in front of my door and refused to budge until I had looked at his work," Ms. Kind, who is known for her feisty candor, recalled with mock consternation. "Finally, reluctantly, I did -- and I was bowled over. I recognized what I always look for in a true artist's work, which is quality of technique, of ideas -- and a unique, personal vocabulary of form."
Roger Manley, a well-known independent curator who has been associated with the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, said that authentic outsider art and related work that genuinely shares its compelling, obsessive spirit comes from artists "who have a real need to express themselves, not to make a name for themselves." Typically, he said, "there is a very personal aura, an accumulated energy surrounding their art, that's an essential part of it." Mr. Lukacs and Ms. Kind have noticed this quality in Mr. Zindato's work.
The soft-spoken, introspective artist has described "a feeling of being in a trance" whenever he paints or draws. His new works on paper were made with colored inks on vibrant pastel backgrounds. They are rich in fine-lined, evocative motifs, including snakes, eyes and heads, and thickets of dots, dashes and organic shapes reminiscent of decorative patterns in African tribal art.
In its perennial pursuit of the Next Big Thing -- a name, a style, an idea to hang a sale on -- will the art market embrace Ms. Kind's latest discovery? "Who knows?" she mused and, with a sigh, recalled past gambles that had paid off. They included her support of the Chicago Imagists' funky pop in the late 60's and early 70's, Wolfli's complex oeuvre and, more recently, the psychologically intense drawings of the Seattle-based artist Marilee Stiles Stern, who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, what used to be known as multiple-personality disorder.
"Every dealer is always searching, like an archaeologist," said Frank Maresca, who, with Roger Ricco, runs Ricco/Maresca, another of New York's leading outsider-art galleries. "Phyllis is one I most admire because she's completely unafraid to take chances and has often led the trend of popular opinion."
Gathering up her papers at the end of a long day, Ms. Kind paraphrased Picasso to describe her own compulsion. "He said an artist is not one who always looks for something, but rather one who always finds something wherever he looks," she said. Releasing one of her familiar, gravelly chuckles, she added: "Even after all these years, I still love a good find."
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