Celebrated Chicago museum co-founder’s vast Outsider art collection heads to auction

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Artwork from the estate of late Chicago collector and Intuit museum founding member Susann Craig will go under the hammer in March at Hindman Chicago, with many of the more than 300 paintings and other works for sale reflecting the Outsider and self-taught art Craig championed during her life.

Craig, who died at age 84 of breast cancer in 2021, was a prolific art collector and helped build Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Intuit has been credited with promoting Outsider art, which the museum defines as work created by artists who faced marginalisation, overcame personal odds to create art or who did not follow a traditional artist’s path.

An Ohio native, Craig moved to Chicago after university and became a fixture of the city’s art scene, where she served as a mentor to many local artists, says Zack Wirsum, a director and senior specialist of post-war and contemporary art at Hindman who knew her personally. Craig “was a big personality and a snazzy dresser and often had colourful hair and a bunch of jewellery. And I remember rings on every finger,” Wirsum says.

Pieces from Craig’s collection on display in her Chicago home Courtesy Hindman

Chicago artists are heavily represented in Craig’s collection, which includes work by Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Lee Godie, Nick Cave and Wesley Willis. Craig also assembled an eclectic mix of crafts and folk art, like textiles and carved wood figures, which she displayed alongside work by famous artists in her loft in Chicago’s Logan Square.

“My mother was always on the hunt,” Craig’s daughter Amy Coleman said in a statement. “Her favourite way to roll was ‘off the beaten path’, and she never returned empty handed.” (Hindman titled the auction “Roadside Attractions” as a nod to Craig’s habit of pulling over during family drives to collect interesting pieces, Wirsum said).

Recurring themes throughout the collection include explorations of the human figure, as well as works attesting to Craig’s fascination with depictions of Adam and Eve, which led to others gifting her with work related to the biblical story, Wirsum says. Craig was also willing to go the extra mile to acquire an interesting piece.

“She would make these pilgrimages to meet the artists, to their environments where they were creating work and immerse herself that way,” Wirsum said. “There’s this thread of souvenirs from life traveled off the beaten path.”

The sale’s cover lot is Crossing the Bandiagara Escarpment With Baobab Trees and Dogon Dancers (1989) by Chicago painter Roger Brown—a friend of Craig’s—that refers to a trip to West Africa the pair took together. The painting was “the crown jewel” of her collection and was displayed prominently in her home, Wirsum says. It took Craig years to acquire the painting from Brown’s dealer in Chicago, Phyllis Kind. Hindman estimates the painting will sell for as much as $80,000 in March.

“This painting, that speaks specifically to the journey to collect [and] is indicative of everything that she had,” Wirsum said.

Roger Brown’s Crossing the Bandiagara Escarpment With Baobab Trees and Dogon Dancers (1989) at Craig’s home in Chicago Courtesy Hindman

The collection as a whole is estimated to fetch just under $300,000, Wirsum says, with part of the proceeds set to benefit Intuit, which is planning for an expansion project of its Space in Chicago’s River West neighbourhood. After helping found the museum in 1991, Craig served on the board of directors for nearly three decades before she was named a life trustee in 2020.

Before the sale, which will take place in Chicago on 9 March, Hindman will host a preview in New York from 2 to 5 March to coincide with the Outsider Art Fair.

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