Inside The American Folk Art Museum’s Outsider Ball

From left, Penny Katz, Burt Fendelman, Helaine Fendelman and Arlie Sulka.

Review by W.A. Demers

NEW YORK CITY – Outsider art and the category’s major proponents and collector were the focus on October 7 as the American Folk Art Museum conducted its annual benefit fundraiser, this year called the Outsider Ball at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. The event honored Monty Blanchard, board trustee and outgoing president of the board, his partner Leslie Tcheyan, and Audrey Heckler for their outstanding commitment to the museum and contributions to the field of self-taught art. Joining the honorees for the evening’s celebration were friends and family.

The field is one the museum takes seriously. For 60 years it has been a leader in celebrating the accomplishments of self-taught artists, whose genuine and candid inspiration springs from personal experience.

Welcoming remarks were presented by the museum’s director, Jason T. Busch, who stepped in at the helm in August 2018.

Before awards were handed out to recipients, event co-chair Edward M. Gómez mounted the stage to introduce the honor being given to Audrey B. Heckler. Gómez is senior editor of Raw Vision magazine and a member of the advisory council of the Collection de l’Art Brut, the well-known museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in the art of visionary self-taught artists.

“It is generous patrons like Audrey Heckler who light the fuse of an explosion of the most original and creative research, exhibition-making, educational programming and, yes, community-building through a shared exploration and appreciation of art and cultural history here [at the American Folk Art Museum],” said Gómez.

Heckler’s collection of works of art brut, Outsider and self-taught art are currently on view at the museum in an exhibition titled “Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler,” on view until January 26. For nearly three decades, Heckler – a longtime and committed patron of the museum – has surrounded herself with examples of blue chip names in this collecting category, including William Edmondson, Martín Ramí­rez, Henry Darger, Adolph Woelfli, Thornton Dial and Anna Zemánková.

Gómez recounted for the assembled crowd a bit about the background of Heckler, who was brought up in Manhattan, studied at Skidmore and Finch college, and who, as the former president of a commercial real estate company, in the early 1990s, “caught the bug – she fell in love with the work of art brut, Outsider and self-taught artists – and then there was no turning back.

“Audrey once told me: ‘Sometimes it isn’t easy to live with this kind of art, because it can be very powerful – but I can live with it. I love it. It speaks to me,’” Gómez continued. “If you’ve ever had an opportunity to visit Audrey’s home, you’ll notice that she is someone who is not intimidated by color, either, for the walls of her apartment are painted in bold colors that provide a dramatic setting for her art collection. She often refers to the works in her midst as ‘my friends.’”

The evening’s two other honorees were Monty Blanchard, collector, investor and advisor, who has been involved with the museum since 1985, most recently as its president and now chairman of the board, and his partner, Leslie Tcheyan. The couple was introduced by Elizabeth Warren, the museum’s newly elected president of the board of trustees, who described Blanchard as ” a savior, a leader, a mentor to me, and a solid rock for the museum board and staff to lean on.” She recalled meeting Tcheyan years ago when, as the owner of her own boutique jewelry company, she donated some of her company’s jewelry to an auction at the museum’s benefit. “I had little idea then of what a force she is,” said Warren, “graciously opening her home and her life to the museum and given over all the wall space (and much of the floor) in the Blanchard/Tcheyan home to the kind of self-taught art we are celebrating tonight at the Outsider Ball.”

Between the awards presentations, John Hays of Christie’s served as auctioneer for a live auction, and gala attendees tucked into dinner and dessert, followed by music and dancing. This year, as at last year’s event, Blanchard auctioned his own colorful neckwear for the evening, won by patron Burt Fendelman.

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