Featuring over two hundred works dating from the 1930s to 2010 by twenty-seven self-taught American artists, the exhibition "Great and Mighty Things": Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz seeks to further the dialogue concerning the intersection of outsider art with mainstream modern and contemporary art. Outsider artists—untrained individuals who employ unusual materials and methods to create their art independently of familiar styles, trends, or movements—rarely have the advantages of money, education, or art-school training. Instead, the inventive, everyday quality and the storytelling aspects of their artworks are fueled by their own personal narratives as well as by the popular culture that surrounds us all. Many individuals base their compositions on ephemera such as advertisements, comics, magazine illustrations, and product packaging, while utilizing a variety of found materials including roofing tin, tree roots or branches, collaged printed papers, soot mixed with spit, chicken bones, and small plastic objects.
Despite their characteristic beginnings as artistic “outsiders,” many self-taught figures have gained widespread acclaim. Among the celebrated artists featured in “Great and Mighty Things” are William Edmondson, Howard Finster, Elijah Pierce, Martín Ramírez, and Bill Traylor. Over the past three decades, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz—the latter a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees and of its Committee on Modern and Contemporary Art—have assembled one of the finest private collections of American outsider art in private hands in the United States. Their promised gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a truly collection-transforming event for the Museum, launching it into the top ranks of public holdings of outsider art in the country.