Just a few years ago, Audrey B. Heckler’s over 500-piece collection of outsider art had rarely been seen in public. Now, nearly the entirety of her holdings—one of the country’s most important and comprehensive collections of self-taught art—will be donated to New York’s American Folk Art Museum.
“I love these artworks and have collected them with care,” said Heckler in a statement. “I want them to stay together and to be a part of the American Folk Art Museum—a place I deeply cherish—so that they can be enjoyed by visitors, scholars, and artists for years to come.”
The museum’s senior curator, Valérie Rousseau, told the that the collection illustrates the growth of the field of self-taught art in the United states, ranging from European Art Brut to African American artists, and that “the collection reflects the depth and diversity of self-taught art over the last century.”
The promised gift, which kicks off the museum’s efforts to expand its collection as it celebrates its 60th anniversary, follows the recent show “Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler.” The first major exhibition of Heckler’s holdings, it was on view at the Folk Art Museum through this past January.
The first three works being given as part of the gift, by Martín Ramírez, Barbus Müller (a.k.a. Antoine Rabany), and Achilles B. Rizzoli, will go on view later this year in a gallery named after Heckler. Other key artists in the collection include Henry Darger, Thornton Dial, Carlo Zinelli, Augustin Lesage, Anna Zemánková, George Widener, Bill Traylor, and James Castle.
A trustee of the American Folk Art Museum since 2003, Heckler got her start as a collector in the field when she spotted a poster for the Outsider Art Fair in 1993. Intrigued, she decided to check it out.
“I saw this work was colorful—I generally like color—and it was basically affordable! That’s what started me collecting this art,” Heckler told art dealer Sara Kay in 2017.
The field also appealed in a way that mainstream contemporary art did not. “I do not collect contemporary art,” Heckler told Manchester’s Jennifer Lawrence Gallery in 2019. “I find it very specious, overblown in price, and I just don’t like it as much. Folk/Outsider art is much simpler and easier to look at.”
It took nearly 25 years before Heckler shared the fruits of her passion with the world. In 2017, she released , published by the Folk Art Museum in partnership with Rizzoli. Later that year, Kay presented the first exhibition spotlighting the collector’s holdings, featuring 30 works.
For the Folk Art Museum show, Heckler loaned some 160 objects by around 80 artists. The institution replicated some of the “cabinet of curiosities”-style displays she favors in her New York apartment, where, in order to keep as much work on view as possible, the walls are hung floor to ceiling.
That’s why, Heckler admitted to Kay, she stopped collecting over the past few years. “I just don’t have any wall space, and I don’t believe in putting things in storage,” she said. “My trouble today is what I am I going to do with it.”
Thankfully, the Folk Art Museum has now solved that problem.
See more works from Heckler’s collection below.