Newsweek looks at the growing vogue in the UK for art by convicts as it latches on to the popularity of self-taught and outsider art.
As therapeutic art programs burgeon behind bars, “criminal art” has generated a curious niche in the U.K. This autumn, London’s prestigious Southbank Centre will turn over its gallery space to works by Britain’s inmates. The show, Art by Offenders (Oct. 21–Dec. 3), is organized by the Koestler Trust, a charity that awards convicts with small cash prizes and a cut of any work sold. The show will be curated by female prisoners on special supervised release who will give tours of the exhibit to the public. In a display at the Edinburgh Festival, also titled Art by Offenders (through Sept. 4), works by Scotland’s inmates reveal a daring contemporary streak. One giant train made from thousands of matchsticks could out-kitsch Jeff Koons. […]
The lack of access to materials clearly inspires innovation. “It is interesting what styles emerge,” says Ally Walsh, an art manager at the Anne Peaker Centre for Arts in Criminal Justice in London. “Some [inmates] might have had no exposure to contemporary art. But what they’re making is naive and abstract art.”
Therapeutic art programs are widely believed to help rehabilitate criminals. Now they’re also generating controversial interest from critics and private collectors. Earlier this year, two paintings by London’s notorious Kray twins-—who ran a violent gang called “the Firm” during the 1960s, were convicted of murder, and have since died—netted nearly £1,000 apiece when they went under the hammer at a London auction house. […] “[People] imagine that the underworld might be revealed by having access to this work,” says Walsh. “Suddenly the taboo life of people in prison is available to the public. Even if it’s not to fully understand [it], it’s just an attempt to try and glimpse that world. That desire is very compelling. That’s what’s driving this market.”
Beyond the Bars (Newsweek)