‘If the Pope makes up his mind to get married I would recommend to him Monika Kinley’ Dusan Kusmic
This rather unusual endorsement was given to Monika Kinley by the Outsider artist Dusan Kusmic. In 1986, Monika travelled to Dublin to meet the artist in the squat where he was living. This was her first encounter with his work and she purchased a sculpture covered in miniature shoes made from chewed bread and saliva, which would become one of the proudest examples in her collection. Later she would arrange a grant of £600 and included his work in an exhibition in Japan. Kusmic’s comment is testament to the high-esteem in which Outsider artists held Monika. She was not just a patron, but also a loyal supporter and friend to many, which is evidenced by the numerous letters in her personal archive (now held by Tate). This blog is a profile of Monika, collector, curator, dealer and unrelenting champion of Outsider Art.
Monika was born Monika Wolf in Berlin in 1925, the daughter of Austrian-Jewish parents, August and Paula Wolf. Monika says – ‘I had wonderful parents, very cultured people. Father was a writer and my mother was always interested in everything.’ In 1932 the family moved to Vienna because ‘it was the liveliest and most cultured of cities’ but left in 1938 the very day that German troops entered the city. They stayed in Prague until 1939, where her parents had to queue for 2 days to get the necessary stamps in their passports. They eventually fled across Europe by train to escape the Nazis, arriving in Britain on 2 April 1939. As intellectuals politically opposed to the far-right government and as Jews, they were marked people, and it’s only thanks to her father’s foresight in moving the family to Britain that they survived.
Despite her parent’s outspoken opposition to the Nazis, the family were still closely watched because of their German/Austrian heritage, and for a while her father was interned in England as an enemy alien. Her mother Paula found the trauma of their dislocation from their former lives too much to bear and she passed away that year from what Monika termed the ‘shock of the move’.
This was a very difficult time for the family. Monika was placed on a train to Whitby to avoid the blitz and was schooled in a boarding school ran by Anglican nuns. She was 14 years old and spoke no English. She describes the school as a ‘wonderful teaching community’ run by ‘very intelligent women.’ After school she was supposed to go to Durham University to become a teacher, but her true love was art, so she pushed against her teachers and father and applied to Hull School of Art to study Fine Art. However, she quickly realised that she did not want to chase a career as a painter although the art history lessons interested her greatly. In Monika’s words ‘I realised I was no good so I left’. The determined and resourceful teenager sold her bicycle and used the proceeds to go to London- ‘I lived in awful places and worked in a hotel, but what is unusual about that? All young people do it.’
Through her father’s contacts she got a job working as an assistant to another refugee artist the potter Lucie Rie, whom she used to help make buttons. Lucie Rie, later Dame Lucie Rie, went on to become one of Britain’s most eminent ceramic artists. It was around 1945 that Monika fell in love with a Polish airman, who sadly perished in the war, leaving her to care for their newborn son Peter. It was difficult time to be an unmarried mother and Monika talks about having to leave her job in the ceramic studio because of the pregnancy.
Monika knew that she wanted to work in the arts and so bravely walked up the Tate gallery steps one day and asked for a job. There were only 4 members of staff employed at the time and she was told there were no vacancies, apart from on the postcard counter. Monika gladly accepted the role and she has since described this as ‘the best thing I ever did.’ Being at the Tate opened up a whole world to her, she speaks fondly of the ‘many conversations about art over coffee…with David Sylvester and Lawrence Alloway.’ ‘It was quite wonderful at the Tate. Everybody, every day, discussed art. I could bathe in art.’ It was there in 1953, at the time of the Mexican exhibition that she met Joanna Drew, the Arts Council organiser of the exhibition, who enlisted Monika’s help with the show. As Monika says- ‘this was typical of the times. It didn’t matter that you were just selling postcards, if you wanted to join in, extra hands were always welcome and you became part of the team.’
In 1954 (at 29 years old) Monika married the painter Peter Kinley. They bought a dilapidated top floor flat on Notting Hill High Street with no ceilings and mushrooms growing everywhere. But they were both exceedingly creative and resourceful, and between them they made a very unique and unusual flat.
Shortly afterwards she entered the world of art dealing. Her introduction to the commercial art world was through working front of house at Victor Waddington’s gallery and then later for Eric Estorick at the Grosvenor Gallery. While at the Grosvenor, a man came in with a suitcase full of Madge Gill’s dream-like ink drawings. This was her very first encounter with Outsider Art. After a successful exhibition of Peter’s in New York and some profitable dealing on Monika’s part, they were able to out a deposit down on a flat in Hammersmith overlooking the river. When the marriage ended, Monika stayed on in the flat and, inspired by gallerists in New York, begin ‘dealing’ from her home, which was a novel thing in England at the time.
As a dealer, Monika had the confidence of artists- Prunella Clough, Keith Vaughan, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, – as well as being well regarded by collectors and museums. One of her ‘clients’ was Douglas Hall, the first director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, to whom she sold an Auerbach and a Hilton. She was in demand as a curator with her finger on the pulse and a keen eye for a good hang. She curated shows of Prunella Clough and Jack Smith at the Serpentine and a show of Derrick Greaves’ work in a rented basement in Hanover Square. In 1977 she was invited to curate a prestigious exhibition of British painting 1952-77 at the RA, along with the painter John Hoyland.
It was in Oxford at the Frank Stella private view in 1977 that Monika met Victor Musgrave, who would become her partner in life and art. They spent the afterparty talking excitedly about art and Victor took down her number. He rang the next day and not long after that came to see her bearing gifts. Monika reminisces in her book – ‘How was I to resist such a beautiful and interesting person? I did not.’ Victor was a poet and gallery owner of the radical Gallery One in Soho. He had been dealing in the field of Outsider Art for over a decade and they bonded over a mutual love of the Scottish Outsider artist Scottie Wilson. Shortly after Victor curated the seminal Outsiders show at the Hayward in 79, they began amassing the extraordinary Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection. Within a few years, their growing collection necessitated a move to a larger house in Lambeth, where they exhibited the collection on the walls, filling nearly every available bit of wall space.
Sadly Victor passed away in 1984 aged just 65, but Monika decided to continue the work they had started championing the creative practice of these Outsider artists. ‘Kinley’s eye for the original and authentic, especially in the art of self-taught artists, is unerring.’ Commented Roger Malbert, Curator at Hayward Touring- ‘She loves the strangely unsettling humour of ‘outsiders’, who produce art solely for their own amusement, and she is a passionate non-conformist.’ Her unceasing quest for Outsider Art took her on visits to retirement homes, the Salvation Army and the homeless in order to uncover these marginalised artists. She undertook road trips across the southern states of America and France, and was a consultant for Jarvis Cocker on his Channel 4 documentary series – Journeys into the Outside in the late 90s. Her obituary in the Times says ‘She drove with friends through South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama in 1980s, staying in motels and consuming large amounts of fried chicken and cold tea.’
In 1987, she was asked by the Arts Council to curate a touring show of Outsiders, which she called In Another World. This exhibition provided a great opportunity to travel, she travelled to see Sava Sekulić in Belgrade, Anna Zemánková’s family in Prague, she revisited Pascal Verbana in Marseilles, Michel Nedjar and L’Aracine in Paris and Dusan Kusmic in Dublin, as well as Phyllis Kind in NY and Nathan Lerner in Chicago. She said ‘these are visits which will always remain with me. They helped me to get close to the work, seeing the artists in their surroundings, spending time with them, looking at their work for hours on end. It was such fun.’ After this her journeys looking for works for the collection continued. ‘Outsider artists have opened so many doors for me. They have been a passport to the world.’
Monika worked tirelessly to find a permanent home for their collection (this struggle could easily be the topic of many future blogs). There are countless boxes of letters in the Tate archive documenting these ‘nearly but not quite’ fundraising efforts and building negotiations. Finally, in 1997 Monika succeeded in finding a home for the works, which was lent for 10 years to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, then in 2010 she made the incredibly generous decision to gift these works to the Whitworth.
For the last 9 years of her life, Monika lived in Plymouth near her son Peter, now a military ship restorer, and his family. There she continued to curate exhibitions- including Artists Make Faces at Plymouth City Art Gallery. A book Monika’s Story, was published by the Trust in 2006 and she was appointed an OBE in 2012 for her contribution to the arts. She died aged 88, after making an indelible mark on the world of Outsider Art and the lives of those marginalised artists that she came into contact with.