In 1952 Janet Fleisher and her former classmate, Eunice Leopold, opened the Little Gallery on Manning Street in Philadelphia, where they showed work by both prominent and little-known artists. In 1958 they opened Galerie Philadelphie in Paris, fostering an interchange of European and American avant-garde art between the two cities. By the mid 1960s, Fleisher had assumed sole ownership of the gallery, which she directed on her own until hiring John Ollman in 1970. The two shared an enthusiasm for art outside of the mainstream, and the gallery’s program expanded to include folk, African, Oceanic, pre-Columbian and Native American art, in addition to the European and American avant-garde.
Over the next four decades, the gallery established a reputation as one of the world’s premiere sources for self-taught art, helping to define the field and to develop major public and private collections. Fleisher/Ollman was among the first to mount major exhibitions of work by Henry Darger, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Bill Traylor, and Martín Ramírez, and published early catalogues on James Castle, William Edmondson, and Joseph Yoakum. The gallery continues to represent significant American vernacular artists of the 20th century, including Felipe Jesus Consalvos and the Philadelphia Wireman, for whom the gallery acts as the primary representative.
Since 1997, when John Ollman became the gallery's sole owner, we have endeavored to re-contextualize the self-taught, showcasing this work alongside our contemporary program, which features both Philadelphia-based artists and those from further afield. We strive to keep boundaries permeable by not overly emphasizing categorical differences. In recent years we have made efforts to broaden the view of what self-taught art might mean in a contemporary context by exhibiting work by living artists from developmentally disabled studio programs. In this regard, the gallery is the exclusive representative of Julian Martin (from Arts Project Australia, a program in Melbourne) and has mounted group and solo exhibitions of Philadelphia-area disability studio artists.
Fleisher/Ollman has contributed toward building comprehensive self-taught collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the High Museum, Atlanta, GA; the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; and the Milwaukee Museum of Art. We have also been involved in the acquisition of works by the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the American Folk Art Museum, NY; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. The gallery has participated in a variety of art fairs, including The Armory Show, Art Basel (Basel), Expo Chicago, Frieze New York, Frieze Masters London, Köln Art Fair, Independent New York, and The Outsider Fair (New York and Paris).