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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

Fig. 2: Interior of Intuit: Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. © 2007 John Faier.


Fig. 1: The Outsider Magazine cover from Spring 2009. Published by Intuit twice a year, the magazine serves as a complement to the museum’s activities and as a resource for issues in the realm of Outsider Art.
On December 20, 1951, French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) gave his now-famous “Anticultural Positions” speech at the Arts Club of Chicago. Coining the term Art Brut (“raw” or “rough” art), Dubuffet spoke of the merits of art created away from the competition and fame-seeking mentality often associated with mainstream culture. Outsider Art, the English synonym for Art Brut, is a more all-encompassing term also applied to the works of self-taught artists, eccentrics, isolates, compulsive visionaries, and the mentally ill.

In 1991, a group of like-minded individuals gathered in Chicago, home to many of the most well-known outsider artists, to form Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and outsider art. A nonprofit organization, Intuit’s mission is to promote public awareness, understanding, and appreciation of intuitive and Outsider Art through education and exhibitions (Fig. 1).

In 1995 Intuit made the former studio of Roger Brown, a Chicago artist and Intuit founding member, its home. Quickly outgrowing these digs in Lincoln Park, Intuit subsequently purchased the former Randolph Street Gallery space in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood (Fig. 2). An adapted industrial building erected in 1874, Intuit’s façade is a collage of elements—brick, concrete lintels, glass blocks, patches, and fractured pilasters. With a newfound sense of permanence, Intuit expanded steadily. In 2002, a permanent collection of donated works was formed; it includes pieces by William Hawkins, William Dawson, Howard Finster, and Joseph Yoakum. In 2006, Intuit finished construction on its Robert A. Roth Study Center and on additional exhibition space.

Fig. 3: Henry Darger Room Collection. © 2007 John Faier.

Intuit enjoyed another major milestone in 2000 when it was granted the contents of Outsider luminary Henry Darger’s (1892–1973) living and working area (Fig. 3). A reclusive Chicagoan artist, Darger spent forty years feverishly working on painted and collaged drawings as well as volumes of writing in his one-room apartment. After his death, Darger’s vast and complex oeuvre was found amidst a sea of clippings, shoes, eyeglasses, and balls of string. The Henry Darger Room, which includes the architectural elements, fixtures, and furnishings from Darger’s apartment on 851 Webster Street (Fig. 4) provides the viewer with a better understanding of an artist who struggled to make sense of the often unpleasant world around him.

Intuit also offers a changing rotation of exhibitions. The Treasures of Ulysses S. Davis is on view until May 15, 2010 (Fig. 5). A barber from Savannah, Georgia, Davis (1914–1990) spent years creating a sprawling body of work (Fig. 6). His plethora of sculptures can be divided into categories that include portraits of U.S. and African leaders, religious depictions, patriotic pieces, and abstract decorative objects. Davis also carved more practical pieces such as canes and furniture, but rarely sold any of them. It wasn’t until 1982, when he was chosen to participate in the Corcoran Gallery’s seminal Black Folk Art: 1930–1980 show, that he began to gain attention in folk art circles. Featuring over one hundred works by Davis, the current exhibition, organized by Susan Crawley of Atlanta’s High Museum, along with Savannah’s King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, is helping to increase appreciation of an underrated talent.

Fig. 4: Henry Darger Room Collection mantel. © 2007 John Faier.

Fig. 5: Ulysses S. Davis (1914-1990), Lost Tribe in the Swamp with Alligators, assembled mid-1980s. Wood and paint, 18 x 21¼ x 6¾ inches. King‑Tisdell Cottage Foundation. Photo © Peter Harholdt. Fig. 6: Photograph of Ulysses in front of his barber shop, untitled, n.d. Photo © Roland L. Freeman.

Intuit: The Center for
Intuitive and Outsider Art
756 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60642
Tuesday–Saturday, 11–5pm;
Thursday, 11–7:30pm
Admission is free
Call 312.243.9088 or visit