Jockum Nordström, Playtime for Dung-Hills, 2000, Pencil on paper, 17-3/4 x 24-3/8", The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Friends of Contemporary Drawing, © 2008 Jockum Nordström

The Idiosyncratic Languages of Outsider and Self-Taught Artists

John Kane, Self-Portrait, 1929, Oil on canvas over composition board, 36-1/8 x 27-1/8", The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund, Image © 2008 The Museum of Modern Art.

Gustavo Lazarini, Aunt Juliana, 1941, Watercolor on paper, 19-1/4 x 13-1/8", The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Inter-American Fund, Image © 2008 The Museum of Modern Art.


Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York
The Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries,
third floor
Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing
March 26-July 7, 2008

Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing, features 100 works from the MoMA collection, many on view for the first time at the Museum. The exhibition includes work of outsider and self-taught artists, as well as contemporary artists who share an idiosyncratic visual vocabulary or unique approach to their medium. The term “glossolalia” refers to the speaking a language that is undecipherable to all but the speaker. The drawings in this installation incorporate personalized figurations and real and invented text and verbal systems. Dreams and the imagination are recurrent themes along with the desire to understand the world’s harsh sociopolitical realities. Works by roughly 50 artists are shown, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jonathan Borofsky, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Cornell, Russell Crotty, Henry Darger, Alfred Jensen, Jim Shaw, Amy Sillman, Patti Smith, and Bill Traylor. The exhibition is organized by Connie Butler, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings, and Esther Adler, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings, The Museum of Modern Art.

“The exhibition Glossolalia is an opportunity to consider MoMA’s history of collecting the work of self-taught artists, as well as the numerous links between this work and that of many contemporary artists working today,” syss Ms. Butler.

A recent acquisition is, Dan Miller’s (American, b. 1961) drawing Untitled (2006) which fixates on everyday objects — light bulbs and other household appliances, represented through words and sketches. His technique of repeating images, numbers, and words creates complex abstract patterns. Language becomes visual data that dissolves into a web of lines, obliterating any discernable form. The artist’s obsessive method is reflective of his attempt to organize and process the world around him.

James Castle (American, 1900–1977), deaf from birth, never learned to speak, sign, read, or write. Refusing formal art training, he created a visual language inspired by his Idaho home and daily life. His work, intimate in scale and focus, became his form of communication. He drew with a sharpened stick, in a mixture of soot and spit, on found surfaces, and created thousands of drawings, constructions, and books in his adult life. Three works are on view in the exhibition.

In Dream Drawing series (1994–2002), Jim Shaw (American, b. 1952), applies pulp-comic style art to memories of dreams and nightmares. Existing cultural symbols — Betty Boop, characters from The Simpsons, and comic book superheroes — are pulled from the artist’s unconscious and inserted in the work, transforming them to embody personal experiences and preferences.

In Patti Smith’s (American, b. 1946) Self Portrait (1971), the artist scrawls directly onto the work as a commentary on the challenge and frustration inherent in the creative process. The singular character of her handwriting enhances the personal aspect of the composition. Smith’s imagery of language, text, and self draws from myriad influences — ranging from underground music to visionary artists and authors like William Blake and Arthur Rimbaud.

Alfred Jensen. Hekatompedon Series, Per 7. 1965. Gouache, ink, pencil, and typewriting on cut-and-pasted paper on board, 50 x 40" (127 x 102 cm). Purchased with funds provided by Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis. © 2013 Estate of Alfred Jensen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dan Miller, Untitled, 2006, Felt-tip pen on paper, 22 x 30", The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased with funds provided by the Friends of Contemporary Drawing, © 2008 Dan Miller.