For some time, the duo Raphael Rubinstein and Heather Bause Rubinstein, respectively art critic and artist, have been planning to open an art gallery. The plan was to launch the Silo: Living With Art Gallery next year, 2023, from the 19th-century farmhouse that Raphael bought about 20 years ago in the Pocono Mountains outside of the town of Milanville, Pennsylvania.
However, the Silo’s official debut came both suddenly and ahead of schedule, when the opportunity to exhibit at the Outsider Art Fair in New York fell upon them just a few weeks ago. The couple ended up exhibiting at the fair three artists they discovered in Houston, where Raphaël spends a semester each year as a professor at the University of Houston.
One of them is Marian “Chickie” Brown, a painter from Houston who died last year at the age of 98. “She was self-taught and didn’t start painting until she was 60 because she had so many kids,” Heather said. Artnet News at the fair’s VIP preview. “His family had his paintings and they were going to throw them away. I said ‘no, no, no, I’ll take them.’
The Silo: Living With Art Gallery in Milanville, Pennsylvania, at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
“We photographed all the paintings and emailed dealer Andrew Edlin [founder of the Outsider Art Fair] saying, “Maybe you would be interested in working with this artist,” Raphael said. “Instead he said ‘we have one stand left, would you like it? “”
With only weeks notice, the two dove in, pairing Brown’s work with pieces by two artists they had first met at Houston’s Redbud Gallery: Daniel Johnston, a famous singer-songwriter, and Berry Horton, a little-known African American. Chicago artist who lived from 1917 to 1987.
“He was part of this vibrant LGTBQ scene, and a lot of his work explores sexuality, especially hermaphrodite imagery,” Raphael said of Horton. “He never exhibited his work. But after his death, one of his supporters, Susan Cayton Woodson, a prominent African-American art collector and dealer, saved 140 of his drawings, which she kept under his bed.”
Berry Horton, Untitled. Photo courtesy of Silo: Living With Art Gallery, Milanville, Pennsylvania.
Eventually, in 2016, these works made their way to Redbud for Horton’s first-ever solo exhibition. Raphaël gave the exhibition a glowing review in Art in Americaand has been a champion artist ever since.
“I thought it was an incredibly important work, both historically and artistically. I naively expected museums to acquire his work and for it to be recognized, but of course nothing happened. past,” Raphael said.
“Now, six years later, we’re launching this gallery, and I still feel evangelical about Horton,” he added. “In a way, it’s practicing art criticism in other ways.”
So far he has felt good about it. “I’ve never enjoyed art fairs as a critic,” Raphael admitted in an email after the fair’s conclusion, “but to my surprise I really enjoyed being there. ‘on the other side of the fence talking about art to strangers all day.
Daniel Johnston and Marjory Johnston, Untitled. Photo courtesy of Silo: Living With Art Gallery, Milanville, Pennsylvania.
One story he and Heather were particularly excited to share was that of Johnston, who continued to make music and art despite his bipolar illness. In the six years leading up to his death in 2019, he began collaborating with his sister and caretaker, Marjory Johnston, on a series of collage paintings.
“One day she tore a picture out of a magazine and glued it to one of her drawing papers, and then she had to make a phone call,” Heather explained. Johnston began to build on the image fragment, forming a design around it.
Soon the two had developed a new practice, featuring found images, drawings and song lyrics from Johnston’s long musical career.
“As brother and sister, they were so in tune with each other,” Raphael said.
Even in the art brut world, brand names have power, which can be a challenge for emerging galleries. As the best known of the three artists featured in the booth, it was perhaps to be expected that Johnson’s work would be the gallery’s bestseller.
“We did very well with the collage drawings of Daniel and Marjory Johnston, but we didn’t sell much of the work of Chickie Brown or Berry Horton,” Raphael said in an email. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the work itself, but rather with the fact that these are unknown artists. Even in an art brut fair, where one s would expect people to want to make discoveries and take risks, people seem hesitant to embrace anything that hasn’t been proven in the market.”
For the newly created gallery owners, it was something more important than the financial result. The Silo’s business model will be an 80/20 split between artists and gallery, a much better model for artists than the industry’s typical 50% commission.
The plan is for the gallery to present a wide range of work, from figures both emerging and established, historical and contemporary, self-taught and conventionally trained. As the couple continues with renovations to the Milanville Farm, they also plan to hold various pop-up exhibits in unexpected locations around New York City.
“We want to bring art into everyday life, for people going to the grocery store, walking their dog, or heading to the subway,” Heather said. “If people could live with art, people would be happier.”
The Silo: Living With Art Gallery will be located at 596 Boyds Mills Road, Milanville, Pennsylvania.
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