From Eliza French. Follow her on Twitter @elizaenbref; email her at eliza[AT]borderstan.com.
“If it’s totally screwy, weird and bizarre, I’m going to buy it,” said Paul Yandura during a recent, candid collectors’ talk at Art Enables. Yandura, a longtime Borderstan resident, has been collecting art for 15 years.
Yandura’s approach may have been haphazard at times, but following his instincts led him to collect some of the most distinctive and compelling works of outsider art. The recent Glitterbomb exhibit, composed entirely of pieces from Yandura’s collection, proves that even this small segment of his collections is greater than the sum of its parts.
As outsider art achieves mainstream popularity, Yandura continues to seek out untrained and self-taught artists.
Borderstan: Have you lived in DC since you graduated from George Washington University? Where have you lived in DC and what attracted your current neighborhood?
Yandura: I came to DC from Los Angeles in 1994 on the Dale Ride Scholarship, honoring Dale Ride the father of the recently deceased first female astronaut Sally Ride (who also came out in her obituary). I was attending Santa Monica Community College in Los Angeles when I received the scholarship, and then, when my White House internship turned into a job, I decided to finish my political science degree at George Washington University.
It was a bit surreal working for the Clinton White House and leaving work to attend political science classes that were academic discussions on how politics and power works. I have lived in several places (16th and U, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan) in DC, but my partner, Donald, and I have been together over 15 years and have lived for the last eleven in a 100-year-old house in Columbia Heights. We recently had a house history completed and found out that the home was previously owned by Carrie Nation’s lawyer.
Borderstan: When did you first become aware of outsider art and folk art, and how did you choose to focus your collection? How do you feel about the growing awareness and popularity of outsider art within the art world?
Yandura: I became aware of outsider, self-taught and folk art about 15 years ago, by accident. I was turned off by the obnoxiously rude and arrogant behavior of gallery staff and was invited to the New York Outsider Art Fair and several independent shows of undiscovered artists. I was blown away by the art and by the accessibility to the artists. I think a lot of that has started to change now that it is becoming more commercialized and many of the older outsider and folk artists have died.
For many years, I would travel to the artists’ homes, many in the south, to meet them personally and to see the breadth of their work — and their process of creating art. As you can imagine, the growing popularity can be a double-edged sword. Creating a market for outsider art can have negative effects and artists, especially those with disabilities who can be taken advantage of. On the other hand, artists with disabilities can now have rewarding careers as artists.
Borderstan: How do you find pieces to add to your collection? Do you have direct relationships with the artists?
Yandura: I keep a sharp eye out for new finds, but I also am always searching for new pieces from artists I have already collected in the past and to find new undiscovered artists. I have a wide network of friends and fellow collectors who share information on new finds, and I am always watching out for the twice yearly outsider art auction.
I have gotten calls from complete strangers saying, “I don’t know anyone else who would understand or want this piece of art, so I was wondering…” and usually what they have is amazing and completely misunderstood or undervalued for a number of reasons. […] I have lots of direct relationships with artists I collect, and actually prefer that to buying without meeting the artist.
Borderstan: What is the most unexpected way you have encountered a new work of art you decided to add to your collection?
Yandura: There is a homeless man in DC that has created schizophrenic art for years in and around Dupont Circle. When I saw a piece of his art I asked him if I could buy it and he told me that he does not sell it because he does not deal with or believe in government created money. For years I tried to convince him otherwise, and then one day a friend saw him hang a piece on the wall of a metro station and leave it. My friend grabbed it and brought it back to the office as a gift.
Over the next five years I was able to find two other pieces he had created and left around Dupont Circle. I don’t know his name and I paid nothing for the three pieces but one of them is a favorite piece of mine. I can’t tell you what it is, why he made it or anything else about the pieces, but I love them just the same.
Borderstan: You have had a remarkable career in government and politics, and as an advocate for LGBT rights, not to mention your public affairs firm, Scott + Yandura. I’m interested in the intersection of your career and your passion for collecting art. Can you tell me about Art+Works+Wonders?
Yandura: I think the intersection has to do with my passion for human rights advocacy, and I would include self-trained, outsider and disabled artists [in that]. I like to break the rules and force the majority to respect other points of view and to see the world different then they have previously.
I wish I could be more “go along to get along,” but I am not blessed with that attribute. Art+Works+Wonders is a foundation I created to help promote and respect self-taught, disabled and outsider artists. I have not done much with the foundation yet (I am too busy collecting!) but hope to do so in the near future.
Borderstan: I would also like to hear more about your involvement with the art community in DC. I know that you are on the board of Art Enables, that you often loan works to be featured in shows, and that you have opened your home for people to view your collection in the past. In what [other] ways has collecting art enabled you to become more engaged in the art community?
Yandura: I have not been heavily involved in the art community in DC, although I look forward to more involvement. I have enjoyed collecting on my own and with a few close friends who are also collectors, but the Glitterbomb show is really the first time I have been so public about my collecting and my collecting rationale and thought process.
It has been a wonderful experience for me to understand my obsessive collecting habits and to ponder many questions that have been posed by visitors to the show. Many I have not stopped and considered prior to the show. Many others I still don’t have answers for.