Archive for Painting

Lenny

In DC: Artomatic is coming again!

If you are an artist or art lover reading this post, then chances are that you already know what Artomatic (or AOM) is and all about this amazing spectacle.

But just in case, a little review.

About once a year or so, under the guiding hand of a board of hardworking artists and volunteers, a large, unoccupied building in the Greater Washington, DC area is identified, and eventually filled with hundreds of artists’ works, loads of theatre and dance performances, panels, and everything associated with breathing a powerful breath of energy into the Greater DC art scene.

Let’s review: The idea behind AOM is simple: find a large, empty building somewhere in the city; work with the building owners, and then allow any artist who wants to show their work help with staging the show, pay a small fee and work a few hours assisting with the show itself.

Any artist.

Artists love AOM, but most DC area art critics hate it.

Why?

I think that in order to write a proper, ethical review of AOM, a writer must spend hours walking several floors of art, jam-packed into hundreds of rooms, bathrooms, closets and stairs. And I think that this is one of the main reasons that most art critics love to hate this show. It overwhelms them with visual offerings and forces them to develop a “glance and judge” attitude towards the artwork. It’s a lot easier to carpet bomb a huge show like this than to do a surgical strike to try to find the great art buried by the overwhelming majority that constitutes the great democratic pile of so so artwork and really bad artwork.

Add on top of that, an outdated, but “alive and kicking” elitist attitude towards an open show, where anyone and everyone who calls him or herself an artist can exhibit, sans the sanitizing and all-knowing eye of the latest trendy curator, and you have a perfect formula for elitist dismissing of this show, without really looking at it.

This harsh and elitist attitude towards art is not new or even modern. It was the same attitude that caused the emergence of the salons of the 19th century, where only artists that the academic intelligentsia deemed good enough were exhibited. As every art student who almost flunked art history knows, towards the latter half of that century, the artists who had been rejected from the salons (because they didn’t fit the formula of good art) organized their own Salon Des Refuses, sort of a 19th century Parisian Art-O-Matique.

And a lot, in fact, most of the work in the Salon Des Refuses was quite so so, but amongst the dreck were also pearls like Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur ‘Herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, (and we all know what art “ism” that title gave birth to) and an odd and memorable looking portrait of a young lady in white (The White Girl, Symphony in White, No. 1) by an American upstart by the name of James McNeill Whistler.

Everyone who was anyone in the art world hated and dismissed this anti-salon exhibition; except for the only one that really counts: Art History.

But how does a writer cover an arts extravaganza of the size of AOM once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 1,000th?

As an art critic, I once started a review of a past AOM by complaining how much my feet hurt after my 5th or 6th visit to the show, in a futile attempt to gather as much visual information as possible in order to write a fair review of the artwork. Over the years I have discovered that it is impossible to see everything and to be fair about anyone; the sheer size and evolving nature of the show itself makes sure of the impossibility of this task. But AOM is not just about the artwork.

As a gallerist, I also have visited AOM looking for new talent amongst the vast numbers of artists who come together under one roof. Over the years, together with my fellow DC area gallerists, we have plucked many artists from the ranks and files of AOM. Artists who since their first appearance at past AOMs have now joined the collections of museums and Biennials and have been picked up by galleries nationwide. Names like Tim Tate, the Dumbacher Brothers, Kelly Towles, Michael Janis, Kathryn Cornelius, Richard Chartier and that amazing worldwide phenomenon and best-selling author Frank Warren of PostSecret fame. But AOM is not just about the emerging superstar artist.

As an artist, one year I decided to participate in AOM, just to see what the guts of the machine looked like. “I know the monster well,” wrote the poet Jose Marti, “for I have lived in its entrails.”

My volunteer hours patrolling the halls on a Wednesday night at midnight, and still seeing people come in and out, and explore art on the wee hours of the morning, also left a footprint on the public impact of the exhibition. Dealing with prima donna artists, recharging my own artistic batteries from hundreds of fellow artists, many of them in their first public exposure, also left an impression. But AOM is not just about the public.

AOM is two things to me:

It is perhaps the nation’s most powerful incarnation of what it means to be a creative community of hundreds of working creative hands all aligned to not only create artwork, but also put together a spectacular extravaganza that re-charges the regional art scene as no museum or gallery show can. AOM is a community of artists employing the most liberal of approaches to art that there exists: the artists are in charge, and the artists make it work, and the artists charge the city with energy and zeal. And these descendants of those brave souls who challenged the academic salons of the 19th century face the same negative eye from the traditional art critics and curators of our museums, who challenge not just the art, but the concept of an open, non-juried, most democratic of art shows: a community of artists in charge of energizing the community at large. All good group shows must be curated! shout these chained critical voices.

And AOM is certainly the easiest and most comprehensive way to discover contemporary art at its battlefront lines, right at the birth of many artists, paradoxically showcasing the area’s artworld’s deepest and also its newest roots. This is where both the savvy collector, and the beginning collector, and the aspiring curator, and the sharp-eyed gallerist can come to one place with a sense of discovery in mind. And the ones that I missed in the past, and who were discovered by others, are ample evidence of the subjectivity of a 1,000+ group art show.

Viva AOM!

This year’s AOM runs from May 29 through July 5, 2009, and it is located at the new building at 55 M Street, S.E. - essentially on top the Navy Yard Metro - celebrating its tenth anniversary in a newly built 275,000 square foot “LEED Silver Class A building”, whatever that means. It is all free and open to the public and all the details and dates and parties and performances and panels, as well as all the participating artists can be found at Artomatic.org.

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Lenny

The Sedona, Arizona Gallery Art Scene

By the time that this posts, I will be airborne heading West to Sedona, AZ, and I thought that it may be a cool idea to rehash some of my older thoughts on the area for all the newbies to the blog.

While there’s no doubt on the planet that Sedona, Arizona is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, as I discovered while visiting there the last two years, it is also one of the key spiritual magnets to a variety of religions and beliefs, including the significant number of people attracted to Sedona as a result of its “energy Vortexes.”

Let there be no doubt that this is an area of profound beauty and full of a palpable sense of energy and power. I loved it and will be back many times, as there are dozens and dozens of trails and vistas to explore. This visit may get interesting as far as hiking, as I am nursing a really sore Achilles tendon (too much basketball).

On my last trip in 2008, I focused some time and comments on the Sedona art scene, a “scene” with some national footprint, regardless of where you stand on the planetary scale of the art world. in fact, within a few minutes of anyone discussing that they’re going to Sedona, someone will immediately pop in and describe the city’s great art scene.

Last year I approached those views with the prejudiced eyes of the artsy Easterner, accustomed to white cube galleries, minimally presented with austere framing, white matting, and where even title and price labels are often eschewed in preference of a discrete price list on the gallerist’s white or light wood postmodern design table.

Let start with Sedona art galleries, which seems to have shrunk a little in membership since last year - probably as a result of the economy.

But first, extrapolating from to the city’s website, the city probably has around 12,000 people, about 90% of them non-Hispanic whites, and last year with a median household income roughly $100,000 less than Potomac, Maryland and paradoxically (also last year) with a median house price about $100,000 more than Potomac’s pricey homes. I’ve been watching those house prices dive bomb over the last year, but they’re still up there.

But this dollar discordance is the first of many paradoxes about this gorgeous place.

Depending on who you believe, Sodona also gets between four and five million visitors a year.

The Sedona Visitors Guide tells these millions of visitors that Sedona “not too long ago had 300 residents, now has 300 artists and more than 40 galleries.” We also learn from the guide that Sedona averages one gallery per 300 residents, and for every dollar spent on art, the art buyers spend $12 on other Sedona stuff.

I often wonder how the granularity on these statistics take place.

The guide also claimed last year that statistics show that approximately 33% of the city’s visitors are attracted there by the art, and that these art aficionados thus spend between $200,000 to one million dollars in various Sedona businesses each day. We thus can extrapolate that around $16,666 to $83,333 dollars are spent each day on art in this small town.

One issue appears to be clear: it’s the tourists who buy art, not so much the locals (does that sound familiar?). This makes sense, after all, how much art can 12,000 residents buy from 40 galleries?

“Locals don’t buy any art,” told me last year a former Sedona gallerist, who prior to opening a gallery in Sedona had been a dealer in Chicago. “There are a lot of retired people here [the median age is around 55] and although there are some very large multi-million dollar homes, there are also a lot of modular homes [a fancy way to described a souped-up trailer].”

To the prejudiced and minimalist Easterner eye, the riot of color, subjects and presentation that characterizes most Southwestern art is an assault to long-held visual sensibilities created by the black and white world of the East Coast and Left Coast artworlds and its European and Latin American brethren.

I am shocked to discover that perhaps there’s something of an elitist in all of us, as the preconditioning of being an artist, an art critic and an art dealer raised in all those aspects, and mostly along the Eastern states, prejudices my eyes to what I’ve referred previously as “coyote art.”

My better half, who many years ago interned in Santa Fe with the legendary Gerald Peters Gallery (and Peters is credited by many as energizing the interest in Southwestern art and placing Santa Fe and the Southwest in general on the art scene), tried over the last couple of years to educate me somewhat as to the different sensibilities between what she labels “an Easterner, with an East Coast vision of what a gallery should look like, looking at a Southwestern space.”

It will take time, but then again, at one point in his life Duncan Phillips hated Impressionism and then eventually was seduced by it and became the American champion for it.

On the other hand, Wisconsin farm girl Georgia O’Keefe, even in her Southwest years always kept her austere black and white world where colors were generally reserved for her paintings.

So for the last two years I have proceeded with as open as a mind I can have, maybe somewhere between Phillips’ eventual enthusiasm and O’Keefe’s steadfast minimalism in personal tastes.

I am curious to see what changes the economic downturn has wrought but there were a lot of spaces in and around Sedona that sell artwork. I’m not really sure if there really are 40 galleries, unless one includes a lot of spaces that sell a lot of Native American and Mexican crafts.

Sedona itself is sort of divided into two areas, and as one comes to it from Highway 179, Uptown Sedona is to the right and the other Sedona to the left. Most art spaces are either located on 179 itself or Uptown Sedona.

The first set of galleries one comes across on 179 are located on a shopping area to the right as one enters the city, with a spectacular view (from the shops) of the Sedona rocks and the city itself.

And when you drive up Highway 179 into Sedona, one of the first galleries that you come across is the huge Exposures Gallery, which is located on the right side of 179 as one approaches the city.

exposures gallery in sedona, arizona

Over 20,000 square feet, not including the outside sculpture gardens (I assume) make this the largest art gallery in the state, and probably one of the largest in the nation.

There’s no gallery in the world, in the many, many galleries in nearly all continents that I have visited, that I can compare to this place.

Exposures is a perfect example of what makes most Southwestern art galleries so different from most other fine art galleries in the world; galleries which follow the white cube example of white walls and minimalist hanging styles, coupled with total lack of information about prices, etc.

Not so in the Southwest gallery model, and Exposures is a perfect example of this model for Southwest galleries.

Upon entering the huge spaces, the East Coast gallery sensibility is immediately assaulted by a riot of colors and by a fear of empty space that yields a huge gallery space filled to the brim with art, photography, sculpture, crafts and jewelry.

This is 21st century salon style presentation married to the joy of colors that is the Southwest.

There are probably a few thousand pieces of art hanging and displayed in this gargantuan space. In fact, so much artwork, and so much variety, that the snobbery of the art world would immediately tend to dismiss this gallery as another “art store” filled with “wall decor.”

Not so fast.

There are plenty of art galleries in Sedona that offer wall decor, and the same in the Southwest, and for that matter all over the nation.

Don’t be fooled by the sheer scale and invasion of the senses that Exposure offers. This is a very successful galleries which offers some very good artists, some so so artists and some mediocre artists. In other words, just like any other reputable art gallery, but definitely not a cheesy art store. This is a very good Southwestern gallery working flawlessly on that model.

Exposures’ success is clearly evident not only in its size, but in the small army of people that it employs, as well as its history, which essentially repeats the usual gallery story: art-loving couple moves to Sedona, open a small gallery; they do well and open a huge one.

And because Sedona’s art buying market is comprised mostly of visitors, this gallery has to operate on the model of exhibiting everything that it has to offer all at once.

It works for them.

So once we get past the fact that this overcrowded gallery space has found its formula for success, and we begin to look at the artwork itself, as I stated before, we find the same mix of great, good, average and mediocre that one finds in any gallery in the world because art truly is in the eyes of the beholder — or in this case the husband and wife team that picks the artists that they choose to represent and sell.

And sell they do…

On exhibit are works by more than 100 artists; yep, 100… and prices, I was informed, range from $29 to $290,000.

The catchy price range seems to have done wonders for both the artists and the owners.

Not everything is about money and sales; but money and sales make most artists, and definitely most gallery owners happy.

About the artwork itself…

Nearly all of it shares a flawless technical skill and delivery that would make most postmodernists elitists raise their noses a few inches higher. As an admirer of technical skill, I have learned to respect technical skill, but also have learned to then look past it and see content, ideas, context and intelligence in the work.

But before I get to the few artists that stood out for me last year, I must note that the one thing that, in spite of over 100 artists, the gallery lacked was monochromatic or black and white works in this wildly colored universe of art. It could really use a few drawings here and there to break up the dominance of color and painting. But I am biased.

As far as I could see there were only two artists working in drawing. Of the two, the two delicate small graphite drawings by Charles Frizzell stood out like little orphans in an ocean of color.

The charcoal and watercolor pieces by an artist named Yuroz also could mostly be qualified as drawing, but the works themselves were rather forgettable, as Yuroz seems to be channelling several of Picasso’s periods — including a rather mediocre stab at cubism — in his paintings and drawings. There is too much Picasso in Yuroz, but there is also too much of Yuroz in Exposures, which in economic terms means that someone must be buying lots of his work. I didn’t like any of it.

Let me tell you what I did like.

There was some very good photography by Scott Peck, and yet I personally test all flower photography to the spectacular work of Andrzej Pluta, or Joyce Tenneson, or Amy Lamb. In fact if Peck’s work is doing well in Exposures, then the art dealer in me is sure that Tenneson, Pluta and Lamb would do even better at Exposures.

Upon entering any business in Arizona that sells imagery, one is bound to find photographs of the desert rocks and formations. By the time that you visit a dozen galleries, one is sick and tired of desert photography.

And yet, one of the most memorable artists in Exposures is a photographer named Martii, whose spectacular desert shots, coupled with superb presentations, make his or her photography one of the best finds in the gallery. And in writing this, I think that another photographer whose work would do well here, would be the split reverse image digitally manipulated split desert photographs by John DeFabbio, who works out of the Washington, DC area. For years DeFabbio has been trekking around the world photographing nearly everything that he sees, then digitally mirroring each half of the image to discover amazing new images in the manipulated work.

But back to Exposures.

The best work in this amazing gallery when I visited last year were beautiful abstract pieces by a Brooklyn-born artist named Eric Lee, one of the rare non-representational artists in the space. Lee creates wonderful reverse paintings in glass that are standouts of skill and delivery. They are fresh and beautiful and add a calming effect to the gallery’s riot of color.

There are two galleries in Sedona claiming to have been voted the best gallery in Sedona. I’m not sure who the voters were, but of the two, Exposures is by far the best and certainly one of the most amazing art spaces in the entire Southwest.

And now I have used the example of Sedona’s huge Exposure Gallery to discuss what I call the Southwest gallery model — a gallery packed to the gills with art in a riot of color and fear of empty space — as opposed to the more standard gallery model of a minimalist white cube for a gallery.

There are a lot of art venues in the Sedona area, nearly all of them, with one notable exception, follow this Southwest model. Most of the better spaces are listed in the Sedona Art Gallery Association website.

Of these, last year Kinion Fine Arts seemed to offer a blend of the two gallery models. In 2008 they had recently moved from the Hozho Center (located at 431 Hwy 179 and home to several galleries) to uptown Sedona, relocating the gallery to a former bank building, safe room and all. The Kinions have divided the gallery into two rooms; at the entrance the Southwest model is in place, but the bank’s vault is used for solo shows apparently hung in the cleaner, less cluttered style of the white cube. They’re also one of the few art spaces in town where not everything is Southwest art centric.

A new gallery just up a few steps from Kinion Fine Arts, located at Hyatt Pinion Point, is the very beautiful space of the Vickers Collection (there are three of these galleries in total and the one in Sedona is called VC Fine Arts), opened just a year ago and by far the only gallery in the area that fits the cleaner white cube model.

Vickers uses the white cube model, and also offers the most diverse set of artists, not just a heavy-handed focus on Southwest art (as most Sedona galleries do, driven by the tourist art market).

It will be interesting to see if Vickers can survive as the sole Sedona gallery (at least that I’ve seen) that offers a diverse set of artwork; the type of art that could easily be seen in New York, or Philly or DC. I’ll let you know later this week after I drop in again.

At VC I quite liked the bronze sculptures of Bill Starke, a refreshing change of pace from all the bronzes of horses, bears, javalinas, Indians, deer and cowboys that inundate most of this beautiful town’s galleries.

I also liked Chris Nelson’s smart and intelligent reverse paintings on plexi, which upon further examination are more than just paintings, since the artist also routes the verso of the plexi so that the textured reverse plexi interacts with the acrylic paint to actually create grooves and channels that on the front of the work create smart landscapes. As interesting as this work is, this artist has to be careful that he doesn’t fall into a repetitive pattern in his work.

Since I have been in the advice-giving mood, an artist that would be a perfect fir and would actually sell like gangbusters all throughout the Southwest are the amazing storm paintings of the Washington DC area’s Amy Marx, who recently had her first solo in New York and whose breath-taking, hyper realism captures massive storms and weather patterns like no artist that I have ever seen.

Another East Coast artist who would be an instant hit in the Southwest is Alexandria’s Susan Makara, whose beautiful stacked stones series sell as soon as she is finished with them from her studio in Alexandria’s Torpedo factory.

Still in uptown, the Sedona Art Center rounds up a very good artists’ run membership gallery of local artists.

There are also quite a few galleries located in a faux Mexican village called Tlaquepaque; after two trips to Sedona, I still can’t pronounce it. From there you can cross Oak Creek by foot and visit a whole bunch more galleries on Hwy 179, although the ongoing construction on 179 seemed to be really hurting the gallery business on that road.

Last year I also drove up to Jerome and was very pleased with their galleries.

Jerome, Arizona sits straddling the side of a mountain about a mile high from sea level and less than 30 miles from its more famous cousin Sedona.

“America’s most vertical city” — I am told — is home to about 400 people, but once boasted 16,000 inhabitants and a brothel madam who was Arizona’s richest woman.

Although I think that the whores are long gone, today the town still manages to attract a few million tourists a year, not only for the spectacular views that it affords from nearly every vantage point in this tiny and beautiful town, but also because of a budding gallery scene that although seemimgly having fairly established roots, it only seems to be blossoming out recently with a significant number of art galleries and venues and a rather successful monthly art walk on the first Saturday of the month. With 30 galleries and artists’ studios participating in the art walk, it reflects the huge impact of the fine arts in a town of 400.

Most of Jerome’s art galleries seem to fit the Southwest style of galleries that I discussed earlier in reference to Sedona. However, and very surprising to me, Jerome’s art spaces seem more individual and original — in most cases — than Sedona’s cookie-cutter model of galleries.

There are several cooperatives that I observed, most noticeably the Jerome Artists Cooperative, where the hilarious (and smart) watercolors of Dave Wilder were on exhibit on that day that I visited in 2008. Full of irony and delivered with superb technical expertise, Wilder flexes well-developed observational skills that challenge the genre of “cowboy art” in a new refreshing manner.

Big Hat by Dave Wilder

The Spirit Art Gallery, although an independent commercial art gallery, seems to be run like a coop as well, with work by 30 artists on display at once, with some very good talent among them.

My Mind’s Art Gallery, which features the work of its owner, Ukrainian painter Joanna Bregon, a surrealist artist who has found a home in this unusual little town, also stands out from the cookie cutter cluttered gallery model.

It was refreshing to see diversity in art and rugged individuality in each art space, regardless of how one feels about the quality of the art itself, in some cases.

And then, while walking through the various galleries and talking to some of the owners and artists, it dawned on me that the Jerome galleries and shops is what I had expected to see in Sedona: unique, one-of-a-kind shops, art venues and art galleries.

I also discovered that nearly everyone that I talked to in this tiny town seemed to know everyone else, and also seemed to have a grudge against either the land developers and the expansion of homes in nearby areas (and competition for water) and/or against the Jerome city fathers for a variety of reasons, most dealing with construction issues.

Finally I trekked down to the town’s former High School, an ancient multi-story set of buildings that has been converted into artists’ studios and workshops - 20 of them.

There the work of Michael MacDonald and Derryl Day really stood out, especially some of Day’s older portraiture works, which were exquisite color pencil pieces full of personality and grace, as well as tremendous technical skill. But the key here, with an exception here and there, is that these were all artists in the overall, rounded, sense of the adjective — not just “Southwest art” artists; it was refreshing and interesting.

As small as Jerome is, it’s clear that the town’s colorful past, coupled with its amazing location and vistas, and more recently married to a creative artistic community and over-protective city fathers, all act as an irresistible magnet to the hordes of tourists that visit it every year.

It’s also clear that there’s something special about this place; it can be felt in the air, in its people and in its streets, and the dealer in me wonders if this special spot would not be an ideal place for some sort of very specific and focused art fair - a mini model of my “new art fair model.”

Sedona and Jerome are like kissing cousins of the Arizona tourist draw. I think that together, they can also become complimentary partners for an art draw of its own.

As the above words are being published, I am airborne and heading West to Arizona, eager to see what changes have taken place, and what new spaces may have emerged, and in the coyote-eat-coyote world of art, which gallery has closed.

Stay tuned… more later.

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Lenny

White House art suggestions to the Obamas

Isn’t it interesting that life itself has an interesting way of forcing us to sometimes either reversing what we once thought were final positions, and other times life offers us a chance of defending both sides of a position?

Be careful what you opine today, as it may be different tomorrow!

I have been generally against the segregation of artists by race (Black, Caucasian, Asian or Native American) or by ethnicity (Hispanic, Semitic, etc.), and yet sometimes a void or need is so egregious that the solution is very clear and may cross lines that we may have thought as cast in concrete.

When we all discovered a couple of years ago that 66% of all the artwork by black American artists currently in the White House art collection had been acquired by the Bushes, depending on what side of the political aisle you stand, that fact either raised an eyebrow from some right wing nuts or some sort of conspiracy theory from vast left wing nutttery.

But when we also discovered the fact that only three works (out of an estimated 375 pieces) were by black Americans, both sides of the aisle should find that surprising… and maybe in need of attention by the Obamas.

A little recap and an update: In 2007 I reacted in my usual self-righteous, irate manner to having American artist and my former professor Jacob Lawrence described as a great African-American artist, rather than just a great artist. And then the Washington City Paper in the process of policing that whole issue, came up with an interesting fact.
Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, pen and ink, circa 1980 by F. Lennox Campello
In an Private Collection

According to the Washington City Paper, Betty Monkman, the curator of the White House, revealed that, “while Lawrence’s painting isn’t the sole piece by a black artist in the executive mansion, it’s close to it — there are only two others.”

That’s now three out of “an estimated 375 total in the White House’s art collection.”

Geez Louise, I mean Betty.

That implies that Simmie Knox’s portrait of President Clinton is not considered part of the White House’s art collection, which doesn’t make sense. Knox is a DC area artist by the way, and a brilliant painter.

So let’s take off the first century and a half of the White House’s art acquisition process. During that time we can safely assume that they probably just focused on American artists from one of the four races, and somewhat let me reverse my stand on segregating artists by race, rather than just artistic merit, and let me take the uncomfortable side of trying to again ask the question, “Why aren’t there more works by black artists in the White House art collection?”

Even if one ignores skin color, and just looks at the art and artistic achievement, there are plenty of great American artists, who happen to be black, whom I think would make a great update to the White House collection.

Some art greats, by artistic default, I would think, would have to be Black, or Asian, or Native American, not just Caucasian artists of all ethnicities - after all, all four races of mankind create art and all four and their many mixtures, live in America.

Back in the 1980’s, Jacob Lawrence was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George Bush The First. Why did it take 27 years for one of his paintings to become part of the White House’s permanent collection?

The City Paper research identified the other two paintings: “Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885), which hangs in the Green Room, its home since 1996, and an 1892 painting by one “Bannister” (possibly Ed Bannister) acquired in 2006 and which was then undergoing conservation.

So two of the three have been acquired by the Bushes, and before 1996 there wasn’t a single work of art by any black artist in the President’s home, in spite of the fact that artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, Alma Thomas, and others are all just great American artists, period, and have even broken the National Gallery of Art code, and should all probably have been acquired by the White House years, and years, and years ago.

Makes my head hurt.

And let’s agree, as Jonathan Melber notes in the HuffPost, that the White House’s collection is not exactly, ah… contemporary.

But let’s say that a traditional acquisition focus on painting were to remain, and thus we would immediately unfortunately eliminate a lot of good contemporary choices. After all, the White House is not an art museum, and the case could be made that it sort of “feels” that it should be an art collection where all things somewhat say “America” in a variety of traditional visual ways, and I submit that for that goal, painting is still first among equals. That still leaves Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas and others I am sure.

So if the Obamas were to continue what President Bush started, and expand the White House’s collection to be more representative of American artists and the American people, I would suggest that (in addition to perhaps more Lawrence), Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, and Alma Thomas would be a good start.

And, if as Malber suggests, the Obamas should expand the White House collection to more than just paintings, then in addition to some Lawrence collages, I would suggest work by other blue chip artists such as Kara Walker, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (who is not only a brilliantly accomplished artist, but also happens to be both Hispanic and Black) and Lorna Simpson.

But I don’t know if the Obamas personally collect art, and even though I am one myself, I don’t really buy the idea of a staff White House art adviser.

If the Obamas are like most people, they probably don’t “really” collect art with a focus or intensity to say, the Podestas in DC or the Rubells in Miami (either one of whom, by the way, would make excellent unpaid volunteer art advisers to the White House, if having an adviser was the choice made to change the visual arts acquisition status quo).

So… since the odds are that they would be beginning collectors, then I would suggest the same thing that I do to all beginning collectors: start looking first at emerging artists, which generally can be acquired for much less money than a well-established artist from the upper crust of the rarified artmosphere. Do this until you establish your tastes, desires and somewhat of a focus, and then, if your financial status allows it, begin expanding into the big museum-level names.

And if the Obamas listen to Malber’s excellent point of looking locally (as Clinton did in selecting Simmie Knox to do his Presidential portrait), then I would add one of the terrific works by Rikk Freeman to the White House.

A huge Freeman painting would do wonders for the White House collection and also do wonders for Freeman. Not only would it add a presence and feel to the collection that is missing right now and which is an integral part of American history, but it would also set a new, fresh change of venue of how artwork has been acquired in the past, and the kind of artists that get acquired.

See Freeman’s works here.

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Joanne

Postmortem on an Ad Reinhardt Painting

Working horzontally, Reinhard brushed and rebrushed the surface to remove all traces of the stroke. Image courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum.

 Ad Reinhardt in his New York Studio in the 1960s.  The artist worked flat, brushing and rebrushing the surface to remove all traces of the stroke. Image courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

 

Ad Reinhardt was a New York painter of the mid-20th Century (born 1913; died 1967), who started as an abstract expressionist and ended up a minimalist. In a slow progression away from color and image, he distilled his work to a series of black paintings.  On the face of it, they are pictures of nothing, these big black canvases. Viewed close up and in person, they reward the serious viewer with subtle geometries, squares and rectangles, in a range of velvety black hues from red to green.

  

 Abstract Painting, 1960-1966, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum. It’s impossible to appreciate the subtleties of a Reinhardt painting on line or in print. Still, look carefully and you can see a nine-block cross and variations in value, if not in hue

 

We know that Reinhardt removed as much of the oil from his paint as was possible while still having it bind the pigment. The result was a powdery-looking surface that absorbed light. Slight intended variations in the amount of medium rendered differing degrees of matte. Reinhardt didn’t varnish these surfaces as that would have effectively pulled a curtain over the subtleties he worked so hard to achieve.

When viewing a Reinhardt black painting, the lighting must be right—which is not always the case, even at galleries and museums—otherwise shadows or hot spots obscure the nuances.  And you need to give your eyes sufficient time to become accustomed to the ambient lighting in order to focus on the dark image in front of you. Only then will it reveal its texture and chromatic richness.

So what happens when the surface of the work is scuffed, scraped or marred? It’s a jolt. That velvety expanse which so slowly rewards you with its color and ever-so-subtle surface becomes like a record with the needle stuck—remember those?— so that all you see is the hiccup of imperfection on the surface.

When he was alive, Reinhardt was known to repaint the surface himself  if  it returned damaged from an exhibition. He even made himself available to the institution or collector who acquired a work of his. This was not an archival or esthetic problem, as the materials and methods were his own and he was working in service to the integrity of the painting he had made. After his death, however, overzealous conservation may have made a bad situation worse. In some instances, cleaning a scuff has made larger areas of scuff. Some reckless conservators have “touched up” the surface, and in at least one instance,  they have virtually repainted the painting in their care. That would make it not a Reinhardt at all.

AXA, an art insurance comany, donated just such a damaged painting in 2000 to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Deemed irreparable after having its surface “restored” by spray painting (!),  Black Painting (1960-1966) became an object for study. In Imageless: the Scientific Study and Experimental Treatment of an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting, an exhibition on view until September 14 at the Guggenheim, you can see how the conservation department examined the painting. Working with the Museum of Modern Art and state-of-the-art laser centers on Crete and in the Netherlands, the Guggenheim’s chief conservator, Carol Stringari, and her staff carried out a complete physical examination of the painting with a series of experiments to see what had been done. (Stringari is probably the foremost expert on the conservation of Reinhardts, having worked on a Reinhardt exhibition held earlier at the Museum of Modern Art.)

 

Cross sections from nine parts of the Reinhardt painting, overexposed so that the black underlayers are clearly visible. Magnification is 280x. The topography includes a base of Reinhardt’s powdery pigment with various layers atop. Some may have been painted by the artist himself, but a top skin of acrylic paint, sprayed to “return” the painting to its once-pristine condition, caused irreparable damage to the work. (In the exhibition’s accompanying video, there are some scenes showing the conservators literally peeling off the acrylic after treatment by a laser–but the painting has been too damaged in other ways for the acrylic-removal to bring the painting back to “life”). Image courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

 

The idea was not to resuscitate the painting but to understand why and how it had died. Viewing the accompanying video was a bit like watching a crime scene show on TV.   Using scanning electron microscopes and spectrography, Stringari and her team were able to to identify the damage and restoration layers above the surface of the original painting. For starters, they confirmed what they’d suspected: that there was a layer of acrylic paint on the surface and that it had been sprayed on. Under the electron microscope–see the grid of images above–this application shows up as a film of plastic over Reinhardt’s powdery oil-based surface. Subsequent treatment with lasers allowed Stringari and her team to understand how to remove some of those non-Reinhardt layers.

 The point of this project was not to save the painting but to understand what \

This is a view of the painting under ultraviolet light. In any “forensic” study, the subject is viewed under different light and conditions. Image courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

 

So why is this study important? For one thing, the forensic examination created a dossier of information about Reinhardt’s working methods and of the techniques used to “restore” the painting. The team learned what works and what doesn’t in terms of cleaning the surface of a Reinhardt painting. Laser equipment developed decades after the painting was made uncovered the mysteries of its making. The lessons and methods acquired will be useful not only in the conservation of other Reinhardts, but in any monochromatic work where even a small break in the purity of the field creates an enormous visual obstacle.

  

Carol Stringari, Chief Conservator at the Guggenheim Museum, who conceived and oversaw this project. Notice the cleanliness of her workroom? Image courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

 

In an adjacent side gallery several Reinhardt paintings in pristine condition are on view.  This is an essential counterpart to the clinical nature of Stringari’s forensic work. Here in the  chapel-like viewing room with a platform for sitting, you have a chance to meditate on the work itself. This exhibition, up through September 14,  was organized by Carol Stringari, Chief Conservator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in collaboration with the Sackler Center for Arts Education.

. . . . . . . . . .

Should you miss the exhibition, here are some good links for more information:

. From Art Info.com, Carol Stringari on Exhibiting a Reinhardt “Cadaver” by Robert Ayers. This is an excellent Q&A with the chief conservator.

. From Art in America, Damaged Reinhardt to Serve as Guinea Pig by David Ebony. From the June 2001 issue of AiA, this brief article makes note of the project at its inception.

. From the New York Times, Tall, Dark and Fragile by Holland Cotter. This article is accompanied by a slide show of images.

If you’re in New York City:

. The Guggenheim Museum has a collection of Reinhardt paintings. You should inquire if they will be on exhibition.

. Reinhardt paintings are on view at the Museum of Modern Art  

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Lenny

My Favorite Painting in Washington, DC

Watson and the Shark
Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley at the National Gallery of Art.

This spectacular painting seeks to depict an event that took place in Havana, Cuba, in 1749.

The naked guy in the water is fourteen-year-old Brook Watson, who was attacked by a shark while swimming alone in Havana harbor. Lucky for Watson, some of his mates were already at sea waiting to escort their captain ashore, and were able to fight the shark and rescue Watson, although the shark bit one of his legs off.

On his return to England, he got his fifteen minutes of fame and Copley painted this work.

If you study the painting carefully, you will realize that Copley probably had never seen a shark in his life, and his depiction of the great white in Havana harbor yields one of the most ungainly and ugliest non-sharks fish things ever painted.

I love to sit in front of this painting and watch people as they walk by and get mesmerized by the brutal event taking place and kids making fun of the shark.

What is your favorite work of art? Not just DC, but from wherever you [reader] hail from? Leave your favorite in the comments.

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Bill

Tale of a Lost Leger

It’s a tragic story, one that institutions everywhere should heed now that remodeling, renovation and rebuilding seem to be a nationwide phenomenon.

According to WCVB’s website, Wellesley College seems to have lost a painting by Fernand Leger.

Here’s how this unfortunate event appears to have unfolded:

Painted in 1921, “Woman and Child” had been on loan to an exhibit at the Oklahoma Museum of Art. When it was returned to Wellesley, the college’s museum was in the midst of a construction project. So the crate sat around someplace, apparently. The sense one gets from the article is that it was just chucked in a corner, more or less. I realize that sounds harsh, but so, to all of us, is the loss of an artwork by an acknowledged master.

Finally, with construction complete, it came time to assess where things were. And no one knew where the Leger was. Talk is that it might even have been thrown away with a bunch of similar, empty crates.

Ladies and gents, the facts are clear: had this multi-million-dollar treasure of an artwork been stored in a high-tech art storage facility such as Mind’s Eye, it would continue to bring pleasure and inspiration to future generations. And at what cost, anything even remotely comparable to the loss sustained by Wellesley College? I think not.

As these museum reconstruction programs continue, I hope that those in charge are giving serious consideration to the temporary storage of their works of art. This is no task for interns or do-it-yourselfers.

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Bill

Art versus the Olympics — a losing competition?

This is from a Wikipedia entry, so take it for what it’s worth:

Art competitions formed part of the modern Olympic Games during its early years, from 1912 to 1948. The competitions were part of the original intention of the Olympic Movement’s founder, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. Medals were awarded for works of art inspired by sport, divided into five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.

The art competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were contended to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs. Since 1956, the Olympic cultural program has taken their place.

Art competitions turn my stomach, truth be told. I don’t care whether it’s kids’ work or juried shows. It seems ignorant to me to treat artworks like Holsteins at the county fair. “Well, Bob, Glenridge Thunder’s got great head carriage, wrecking-ball testicles and a topline you could split wood on, but I watched him walk into the ring, and — bad news — he’s sickle-hocked. Sorry, Son. Maybe next year.”

In a short paper (pdf), Beatriz Garcia, a doctoral student at the Center for Olympic Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona — yes, with all the world’s other problems solved, the A.U. of B. has gone on to tackle the desperate issues presented by the Olympics –  tells us about a clause in the Olympic host city contract that requires the production of an Olympic Cultural Program. But this provides little reassurance to that city’s arts organizations, which will now be competing for the attention the visiting hoards will lavish on the Games.

Ms. Garcia goes on to inform us in another, more-detailed paper on the subject (pdf), that Olympic Cultural Programs are wildly inconsistent from city to city, lasting from three weeks to, in some cases, four years. And here’s the kicker: proposals for cultural programs that were presented by cities during the bidding stage are often not followed through on once a city has been selected. There’s no mechanism in place to enforce promises made during bidding, apparently.

Funding for Olympic Cultural Programs is spotty at best. This makes sense, even if I wish it didn’t, considering that they compete for (incredibly exhorbitant) investment resources with the games themselves.

Perhaps the arts have only themselves to blame if people are apparently more interested in seeing the Torch Relay than in attending a show of Olympics-inspired artwork.

But that could be some seriously funny artwork. Let’s take a fantasy-walk through just such an exhibition, shall we?

John Currin’s stretched-out Neo-Mannerist women, cackling wildly while snapping their backs on the uneven bars.

Picture an Olympics-inspired Richard Serra — thick rectangular mega-tons of steel to suggest the airy flight of a gymnast.

“Tara Donovan’s installation, Mound, consisiting of ten million jock straps arranged into a forty-foot heap, suggests the myriad ways in which our male-dominated culture flaunts its testosterone-fueled fantasies while absolving itself of all responsibility.”

Here’s an Olympics-inspired Damien Hirst: a kangaroo split down the middle, posed in full running extension in a tank of formaldehyde.

Murakami could make giant fiberglass statues of his body-fluid-squirting boy and girl engaged in a competition for distance and accuracy. Perhaps they could be directed at a Bill Viola video of swimmers in ultra-slow-motion.

Maybe the host city’s museums win during the Olympics, and maybe their arts districts get extra visitors, too, and we should all be happy for that. But as far as the Olympic Cultural Program, Ms. Garcia makes it sound like an afterthought at best.

And really, artists of all stripes out there, when have you ever benefited from what the jocks are doing? Didn’t we always eat on opposite sides of the cafeteria?

But I could have it all wrong. If I ever visit a host city during the Olympics — which, incidentally, would be the perfect reason for me to stay as far away as possible — perhaps I’ll find that it’s become a worldwide nexus for the arts, with musicians on every street corner, theatre troupes performing in every park, and art installations on the water, in the air, and spilling out of every enclosed space.

Incidentally, if you’re in Beijing right now and you’re reading this, first, check behind you; I think you’re about to be arrested. But if there’s time before they slap the cuffs on you, I’d be interested in hearing about the Beijing Olympic Cultural Program.

Until I hear more about the Olympic Cultural Programs in Beijing and previous host cities, I’ll have to be content merely to marvel at a world that supports a Center for the Study of the Olympics, while no nation on Earth is apparently wealthy enough to feed a small island whose people are so destitute that their children are forced to eat mud.

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton, Part III

Scroll down for part I and II or click here and here.

Day Three, Saturday, July 26

Started the day with another spectacular gourmet breakfast at our “Buckingham Palace of Inns,” and then headed out to the streets to observe the “Quick Draw” event.

Note to self: Next year bring art supplies and sign up for the “Quick Draw.” It looked to be a load of fun!

To recap: The Quick Draw is quite a novel event to bring the art of plein air painting directly to the art lover. In Easton more than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs, etc. had pre-registered and participated. These artists were then given two hours to complete their works within a three block area of the town.

During this short time, all registered Quick Draw participants set up their supplies and paint, draw, or sculpt “en plein air” in downtown Easton, while hundreds of people stroll around and look in and ask questions.

There were artists everywhere in this small Maryland jewel of a town! And they were not just painting the streets and beautiful houses and spaces around them! Painter Scott Powers, a young Chicago artist, was mesmerizing the crowd by delivering a portrait of a gentleman reading a paper in the shade of an Easton cafe. The crowd was hypnotized as Powers delivered a remarkable piece that not only captured the subject’s likeness, but also that key ingredient of great portraiture: the subject’s unique sense of individuality and self. How he managed to do that in two hours was a spectacular feat.

We walked around for the two hours (I got a mean sunburn) and admired both the multitude of artists of all kinds of artistic skill, and also the multitudes of people admiring them.

When the “finish” horn sounded at high noon, artists began filing down to Harrison Street, where they began to set up their easels to display (and sell) their just finished work. The paintings were then judged by Plein Air-Easton! Competition Judge Gay Faulkenberry and awards were presented at 1:30pm. By 2:00pm the exhibit and all of its paintings were gone from the streets of Easton.

Once again I witnessed a near feeding frenzy as paintings were bought almost as soon as they were up on their easels. I would say that within the first five minutes about 50% of all the works had been sold, with works ranging in price from $250 to $2,000. By 2pm nearly all pieces were gone and heading to the home of a new collector.
Quick Draw at Plein Air Easton

Larry Moore from Florida won the top prize at the competition and it was a well-deserved award - he was also my pick for the best piece in the show. I also quite liked Joe Meyer’s light-filled house (it also won an award), and Ken DeWaard’s piece.

My wife and I then went biking around Easton (biking with my wife, who used to be a world-class triathlete before she retired from competition a few years ago, is like playing chess with Bobby Fisher) and then back to the Inn to get ready for my talk at the museum at 7PM.

My talk had been advertised as a “new signature event that will embody Plein Air-Easton’s slogan ‘Art for Everyone.’ Campello, a respected artist and art critic with a flair for engaging his audiences with humor, will give a short history of art and discuss the knack of art collecting. This event will not be boring. Cocktails will be served and attendees can mingle and view the competition galleries. Seating is limited but Campello’s wit and wisdom can be heard throughout the Academy” and sort of like Richard Pryor once said, I thought to myself as I walked to the museum: “I better be funny.”

The room was packed, with maybe 150-200 people, and I had expected to talk for about an hour as I gave them a little background on art history and then discussed collecting art and other associated issues.

The audience was really good and I didn’t notice anyone falling asleep or leaving, and so when I glanced at my watch, and noticed that I had been talking for nearly two hours I was dumbfounded by both my ability to just talk and talk about art and by the audience’s resistance!

So I ended it (I could have talked another hour, but I took pity on them), and surprisingly quite a few people came over and started asking questions and I spent another 20 minutes or so answering them… so I think that it went OK.

My apologies for those who were late for other things because of my Castro-like performance.

Next: the last day at Easton, with Winners Paint-Out and Brunch at Rich Neck Manor.

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton Part II

Scroll down for part I or click here.

Day Two, Friday, July 25

After an amazing breakfast at our even more amazing Inn, we walked around town and dropped in at the Pam Foss Gallery, where we admired some of her paper casts before walking over next door to check out the installation effort, started last year by artists Carol Minarick and Mary Ann Schindler — with the help of gallerist Vivian Knapp — to provide a contemporary “shadow” exhibition to the plein air festival.

This year they’re presenting an installation about the disappearances at sea of two men who have become mythical art figures.

Mounted at Viviann Napp’s small gallery cottage at the corner of South Street and Talbot Lane in Easton, the installation is a seascape from another perspective. Combining contemporary paintings and actual nautical elements, including a naval architect-designed 1939 lapstrake dinghy from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the work recalls the voyages of cult Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader and English inventor and would-be circumnavigator Donald Crowhurst.

See a 1970s video by Bas Jan Ader here.

It is an elegant and intelligent installation which is the first in what I hope are many new steps to expand the town’s intelligent approach to endorse the fine arts in general; Easton has a good thing going with the arts, kick-started by the hard working folks who put together the Plein Air Art Festival, and I hope that the city council continues to work hard to make this art event the seed for more and more fine arts in Easton.

We also visited and chatted with the owner artists of the Sharp-Mayer Gallery, where we admired the works of owner Joe Meyer. Across the street we walked to the South Street Art Gallery where we ran into the familiar works of the talented NancyTankersley and sort of our first exposure to figurative art in her current series on chefs and restaurant workers. We also quite liked the work of old favorites Sara Linda Poly and Bethanne Kinsella Cople, two extraordinary landscape painters.
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople

At 7 PM that night we attended the Collectors Preview Party at the Academy Art Museum, where each of the plein air artists had two pieces for sale, and where the 2008 juror, artist Lynn Gertenbach Gay Faulkenberry (who graciously stepped in at the last minute because Gertenbach could not attend) would later select the 2008 award winners.

Considering how I have been reporting the blues that seems to have hot the art market in 2008, let me tell you that this evening was almost like a feeding frenzy of art buying. Artists were able to replace work on the wall as it was sold, and I would estimate that around $100,000 worth of artwork was sold on this opening night, where collectors paid $150 in order to be there and have first choice at the available works.

This was quite a refreshing change of pace from what I have been seeing in various art fairs so far this year, and while it is clear that the plein air painting niche is very specific on its genre, it is nonetheless a good shock to see artwork fly off the walls.

It was also surprising for me to agree with about 75% of the award selections given out by the judge, although I did have a couple of major disagreements with a couple of her top choices. Nonetheless it is also unusual for me to agree to this extent with any juror, so in that particular vein we seemed to walk a parallel line.

My choice for the top prize?

Had I been the juror I would have given the top award to Bethanne Kinsella Cople’s beautiful landscape painting; her handling of light, application of paint, and experienced brushwork was the best that I saw that night. I also liked the works that I saw that night by Edward Cooper, Stuart White and Frankie Johnson.

Part III will have the “Quick Draw” - More than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs and the simply adventurous compete to paint, draw, sculpt and have fun in the sun. These artists have only two hours to complete their works within a three block area, then they are exhibited on easels, prizes are awarded and they’re up for sale!

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton - Part I

Day One, July 24, 2008
Sometimes writers are challenged on how best to begin to describe an event, in this case Plein Air Easton, which at first seems just focused on the re-emerging art of painting outside of the studio, but when examined in depth has grown to become not only very good at that, but also - on a wider scale - very good for art, for artists, for collectors, and for a picturesque little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I had never been to Easton, Maryland before our arrival on a Thursday, July 24, as I had been invited to be a guest speaker as part of the 2008 Plein Air Easton festival. We decided to arrive a couple of days early, to soak in the whole experience of a little town taken over by a bunch of artists painting out in its streets and countryside.

Our hosts had put us in at the Inn at 202 Dover, and I must admit that even for an experienced traveler such as I am, I was floored by the beauty, authenticity and elegance of this gorgeous 19th century historical house, recently refurbished and brought to spectacular modern glory by owners Shelby and Ron Mitchell.

The place is breath-taking and the love of the Mitchell’s for their inn is apparent in the care and expense that they took to restore it.

Restoration began in 2005, not only under the watchful eyes of the owners, but also of Historic Easton, the State of Maryland, the Easton’s Historic Commission, and the Department of Interior. Today the beautiful colonial revval building and gardens boasts four elegant suites and one luxury en suite bedroom, each themed and decorated accordingly. The Mitchells like the Victorian approach to decor, and invoking the Victorian era, the suites have an international flavor in keeping with the Victorian concept of what was exotic to them. Arrivals can expect to choose among France, Asia, England and Africa (Safari) suites or, the Victorian bedroom.

We were given the Asian suite, which was larger than most New York apartments — in fact I think it was larger than the Brooklyn apartment in which I was raised. In addition to a beautiful huge bamboo canopy bed and Asian furniture, I loved the antique puppets and the original Ukiyo-e woodblocks on the walls.
inn at 202 dover
And the steam shower, and the cool air jet tub with the golden dragon spitting high pressure water, the fireplace, and the high definition flat screen TV with satellite TV - located… ahem… in the sitting room within our room.

And free high speed internet access.

But enough about this gorgeous place; suffice it to say that if you visit Easton, and want it to be a super special visit, this is the only place in town that will be a memorable stay! It gets a hundred stars and a thousand thumbs up from my wife and I.

At 5:30PM on our first day we hung around for happy hour at the inn… and it didn’t disappoint, as Jorge Alvarez, the Inn’s Cuban-born chef popped in with some tasty food, which included what can be best described as my first exposure of the delicious results what happens when Southern cooking (let’s say fritters) meets Cuban food (let’s say WOW!).

Afterwards we walked over to a local Easton restaurant called … ah… Restaurant Local, where we had some good happy hour vittles (Shrimp Fajitas and Calamari) on their sidewalk tables, listening to a local dude play the guitar, and you won’t believe this: a $5 pitcher of beer in a fancy restaurant! It was great, although we did have to teach our young Russian waiter what “seltzer water” was.

We walked around town and saw several artists painting out on the streets, although it seems most of the 2008 artists were out in the gorgeous countryside. We also scoped out a couple of the town’s art galleries - more on that later, but overall the first afternoon and night was just an opportunity to walk around Easton, see a few galleries and a few artists here and there.

Tomorrow the judging begins!

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