Archive for May, 2008

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Just some fun stuff

A fun animation

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo
(Does anyone know why the embed code from Vimeo doesn’t work on wordpress?) It’s a wall-painted animation by BLU. . .

Which reminds me of the work of Robin Rhone:

Which reminds me of the work of Keith Haring a little bit.

Also anyone interested in roadside attractions/folk art should pop over to oneculture and check out my flicks of Dinosaur Land, which is how I spent Memorial Day.

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Lenny

Artomatic baby!

A few days ago I discussed the Greater Washington, DC area art extravaganza known as “Artomatic” and gave you readers a little history in this massive, open, anyone-can-hang, art show.

Nearly all art critics and writers hate it, and nearly every DC area artist and the 40,000 or so other folk who visit the show, enjoy it.

Putting on my pop psychology hat, I think that the real reason that most art critics hate Artomatic is that they get visual overload very quickly.  C’mon folks, how does a writer cover an art show of the size of Artomatic once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 600th?

It would be the equivalent of assigning someone the task to review a major museum in a day and come up with a decent review, where both the crappy artists hang with the masters.

And Artomatic has returned to the Greater Washington, DC region. It opened in May and runs through June 15, 2008.

Anyone can hang, install and display work at Artomatic. It is the world’s largest and first self-curated, open Biennial. And this is the District of Columbia’s novel American contribution to the world of the art fair, from an artists’ perspective.

A mock Biennial that freely accepts anywhere from 600 - 1,000 painters, sculptors, printmakers, actors, musicians, photographers, weekend painters, major artists, bums, pornographers, actors and bartenders and then finds an empty building and fills it with artwork, stages, theatres, stores, furniture, parties, lectures and controversy.

And this wild, artist-run AOM model has managed to fuel the dislike of most art critics and the love and passion of thousands of artists and art lovers. The arts intelligentsia doesn’t like it when artists rule the day.

And AOM also creates the Greater Washington DC’s uber arts event of the year – it happens irregularly every couple of years or so. About 40,000 people will visit the event this year, and some new artists will be discovered, and a lot of artwork will be sold, and a lot will be laughed at, and a lot of illicit sex will take place, and some controversy will arise, and a lot of new artistic energy will be created.

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 what at the time was my very futile attempt to gather as much visual information as possible in order to write a fair review of the artwork and artists.

No one can do that. No se puede hacer!

Over the years that I have visited past Artomatics (and I have seen them all) I have discovered that it is impossible to see and absorb everything and to be fair about anyone; the sheer size and evolving nature of AOM makes sure of the impossibility of this task. In fact, I have visited AOM twice this time around, and I think that I may have missed a whole floor so far.

As I said, we in the DC area know that local art critics tend to savage Artomatic; they demand a curatorial hand; they want order; they want “bad” art out and only “high art” in; and year after year, they all miss the point! And this year the Washington Post and most mainstream media will all but ignore the region’s largest art exhibition.

Here’s the key: AOM is not just about the artwork, it is about the artistic energy that it radiates, it is about art community, it is about a free for all, it is about controversy, and it is about anyone who wants to call him/herself an artist.

The current AOM is at a spectacular location at the Capitol Plaza I building at 1200 First Street, NE in DC. There are seven, maybe eight or nine floors of artwork all the way up to the 11th floor, located and installed in many mini galleries with spectacular views of the city.

My main impression at this year’s AOM: loads and loads of space and loads of twentysomethings doing twentysomething artwork.

Plenty of space yields a really decent opportunity to display your work well, and one interesting maturity factor in this AOM is how professionally many artists are displaying their work. On the other hand, because of all the available space, this AOM also yields a significant number of really bad “installations” with all sorts of furniture and stuff.

Historically each AOM has delivered significant artistic discoveries for art lovers, art collectors and dealers. People like Tim Tate, Frank Warren, Kathryn Cornelius, the Dumbacher Brothers, etc., all showed at AOM; some still do. Tim Tate sold his sculptures at AOM a few years ago for $300; today they get as much as $41,000 at auctions. Frank Warren started his spectacular “PostSecret” worldwide art installation at AOM; today his project is one of the most visited websites on the web and he’s had multiple art books on the best-seller list.

And so part of the fun of visiting AOM is “discovering” who will be the 2008 AOM emerging art star. In that spirit I will ignore all the well-known names who are exhibiting this year at AOM and try to find artists whose work is new or little known to me. In this review I will create a sort of short list based on two trips; on my third trip I will finalize my initial picks for emerging art stardom.

Working our way up, on the 4th floor I quite liked the work of Amanda Engels, who is showing a series of portraits that work well in capturing a sense of time and presence about the subject. I also liked Genna Gurvich’s painterly and almost surreal work, especially her innovative and intelligent take on the often visited Campbell’s soup can; and believe me, it takes a lot of creativity to say something new with such an art world subject icon - and she does!
Self Conscious by Genna Gurvich

Yet, my pick for key artist on that floor is Cristina Montejo, whose quirky and sexy drawings stand to draw attention from collectors. Keep an eye on Montejo, and buy some of this artwork now.

On the 5th floor I liked the severe abstract paintings of Matthew Langley and on the 6th floor Holly Burns’ pen and ink drawings on napkins are a treasure trove for beginning art collectors. They are fresh and young and hip. They are also superbly done and I bet that we’ll hear about this artist again and again.

Drawings by Holly Burns
Holly Burns’ pen and ink drawings on napkins

I also like Michelle Chin’s over simplified bug cut-outs and Nancy Donnelly’s glass dresses. The latter are elegant, simple pieces that should attract a galleristor two to them and continues to showcase the District’s abundance of talented glass artists.

I was also taken by Shannon McCarty’s inventive set of burned iron marks. They reveal the surprising achievement of minimalism when employed smartly as McCarthy does in her laundry style installation. Also minimalist are the hi tech (looking) works by Paul So. Also visit Keith Thomas on that floor.

 McCarthy
Shannon McCarthy’s burned iron marks installation at AOM

The 7th floor is a treasure trove of good artists amongst the adequate masses. Nana Bagdavadze is somewhat channeling the super-talented and highly acclaimed DC area artists Amy Lin to the third dimension as she takes the Lin’s vision of a small circle to an illusion of three-D organic DNAish form. Teague Clare’s intimate but very cool pieces are also quite good as are Juan del Alamo photographic test strips. Both these artists also know how important presentation is and have done well in maximizing their space while giving it a clean look. Also visit Damien Gill’s elegant digital works.

By the way, this “clean look” is something new in AOM. The exhibition has somewhat matured and “professionalized” in leaps and bounds. There is little of the amateur in the presentation left in this version. It is there, but not in the majority.

I know Rania Hassan’s works, but in this AOM she re-invents herself in a very elegant installation that goes from 2D to 3D right before our eyes. It is sophisticated and elegant, and another clear indication of the level of maturity that AOM has achieved over the years.

Dale Hunt’s monster art is also fresh and reflects a clear AOM trend for young, hip, simple art that is deceptively complex beneath the first visual impression. There is a lot of this “young art” in AOM this year, as well as a lot of tattoo art. Also visit Brad Taylor and see what an artist can do with those tabs in beer and soda cans.

The 8th floor’s find is Michael Auger’s dayglow mini paintings – like Dale Hunt, this artist fits into that young, smart art that is both attractive, simple and yet appealing to the visual senses; at $35 for an original, they’re also a helluva good deal.

The DC area is a Mecca for world class smart, innovative fine art glass and perhaps its leader in bringing glass to a higher place and away from the craft world. David D’Orio’s works join that new emerging movement and are very good.

I also liked the fresh skill in Todd Gardner’s portraits.

The 9th floor offers the very cool mini photos by Erin Antognoli, really good work by Jeanette Herrera and Barbara Johnson-Grener.

Also Kim Reyes’ ceramic wall figures caught my eyes as a good find for sculpture lovers. On this floor you’ll also find Andrew Wodzianski and Kirk Waldroff (OK, OK… so I know them and represent one of them).

The 10th floor has my key find for AOM.

And it is not a single artist but a highly sophisticated multi-artist exhibition titled “Coincide.” This is the AOM find of the year.

If you are a harsh critic of AOM’s free for all art approach, and don’t want to look at the work of 800 artists, just drive up to AOM, go to the 10th floor and look at the work of the 17 artists in “Coincide.”

Using Star Trek technology, we can easily imagine teleporting this entire massive contemporary ceramic art installation to any gallery or museum in the world and no one would blink an eye. It is a triumph of severe presentation and talented artists, and it is also a giant leap forward in the maturation process of AOM itself.

These are skilled, innovative, ordained ceramic artists, whose work is as far from “amateur” – the usual adjective applied wholesale to AOM – as Warp 9 is far from 55 MPH.

Big names like Laurel Lukaszewski, who shows locally at Project 4 Gallery (one of the best, fresh new galleries in DC) and nationally at other various venues, are complemented by (new to me) artists like Leila Holtsman (whose piece I hereby select as the best single work of art in AOM), Novie Trump, Ani Kasten, Kate Hardy (gorgeously displayed) and others in this spectacular group.


Leila Holtsman at AOM

Also on that floor I quite liked the brilliantly yellow installation work by Bryan Rojsuontikul, who joins the tradition of artists working with common materials (in this case yellow and silver Duck tape) to deliver breathtaking minimalist works of art. Also check out Alexandra Zealand.

On the 11th floor I enjoyed the work of Krissy Downing and Gregory Ferrand and then really enjoyed Veronica Szalus’ floor sculpture of painted ball objects. Also on this floor be prepared to be quite taken by Tracy Lee’s familial installation of family memorabilia (and I just broke my rule again, since I know Lee’s work well, but this installation doesn’t fit with her previous set of photographs). Since I broke that rule, also on this floor, super sexy abstract work by Pat Goslee and representational by Candace Keegan.

If you want a quick video walkthrough AOM, check out the video below. The music has been married to this video on purpose from the perspective of AOM’s past treatment by local art critics. I suspect that many of them will not visit this year’s AOM simply because they’ve already made their minds without seeing the art - ahead of time as a DC critic was once ”caught” doing - closed minds that say that the show sucks because it’s all open and a an artistic free for all.

By the way, the art that pops up when Lennon first sings “they’re going to crucify me”is bordering on being one of the art world’s oddest coincidences, since I didn’t synchthe music to video to pre-arrange for that art to pop up at that time… it is worth viewing the video just for that! Be prepared to be chilled!


AOM is free and open to the public and runs through June 15, 2008. All the info that you need is online at www.artomatic.org.

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Admin

Trenton Doyle Hancock at the ICA, Philadelphia

 

Trenton Doyle Hancock, \

“Go Vegan” (detail) by Trenton Doyle Hancock

 

Trenton Doyle Hancock

Wow That’s Mean and Other Vegan Cuisine

Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

April 25-August 3, 2008

A solid two-thirds of me thinks the Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition at the ICA is pretty funny, while one-third of me is mildly insulted. That one-third of me is interfering with the pleasure I should have at seeing Trenton’s glow-in-the-dark and 3-D wallpaper that adheres to the wall of the ICA’s ramp space and begins to wonder if I should be that interested in art that seems like a massive inside joke that’s gone on for far too long (ten years now. . .). You see, TDH has been developing a body of work around a self-made mythology that evolved from an argument he had with his very vegan roommates back in graduate art school. I guess these roommates were pretty militant about their veganism and gave TDH a hard time so he started an “epic tale of mortal struggle between the Mounds, a gentle human-plant hybrid, and their inbred half-cousins, the evil mutant-ape Vegans.” (from the ICA’s Gallery Notes). 

Detail of TDH’s wallpaper “Flower Bed II: A Prelude to Damnation”

The reason I’m kind of mad is I’m a vegan (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat any products produced from an animal, including eggs, cheese, etc.). I’m not a very good one (like, I took a “break” yesterday and ate some ice cream) and I don’t try to convince others to become a vegan or preach about how “evil” animal products are, but I am what I call a “lazy vegan”. I have been one for five plus years, and I plan to try to remain one. I can’t help thinking that although I like TDH’s hand-style and some of the drawings look cool, and a connect-four game and an Atari system is set up for playing in the gallery, and you get a free-pair of 3-D glasses to look at TDH’s wallpaper with. . . that Trenton Doyle Hancock is making fun of me. When someone is making fun of you it is very hard to like them.

I have been insulted and yelled at by people who eat meat and dairy many times in my life, being a vegetarian in High School was especially not easy, but I didn’t vilianize meat-eaters, creating grotesque caricatures of them. I understand that what lead Trenton to this path were no-doubt some terribly idealistic extreme young vegans, I have met such people and they can be scary, but they are no scarier then the occasional meat-eater that won’t leave you alone about being a vegetarian. Most of these extremists mellow-out with age and realize that people’s personal diets are really not all that important.  

So I have to end this review with some advice to Trenton Doyle Hancock: 

Trenton, everyone seems to really like this body of work and you obviously have talent and some great ideas, but to me, someone who actually enjoys being a vegan with occasional lapses (hey, I’m only human and very lazy) it sort of is the visual equivalent to a hate crime. I want to like you and your art but I cannot. Hate is ugly. So my advice to you is to forgive and forget and move on. You could be WAY better then this. 


 

 

 

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Bill

Erik Nordenankar’s “Self-Portrait” — the world’s biggest drawing

Erik Nordenankar's "Self-Portrait"

From Erik Nordenankar’s website, “Biggest Drawing in the World”:

With the help of a GPS device and DHL, I have drawn a self portrait on our planet. My pen was a briefcase containing the GPS device. Being sent around the world, the paths the briefcase took around the globe became the strokes of the drawing.

Fascinating to me that this drawing exists only as a list of geographical coordinates which are the reflection of an arbitrarily developed means for using the Earth. It’s possible only because of mankind’s ceaseless need to conquer terrain, using a process that, not coincidentally, I suspect, began with a simple mark drawn with a finger in the dust.

The first question that comes to my mind is this: Was this trip really necessary? Couldn’t Mr. Nordenankar have simply traced out this drawing on a map and called it a day?

Further, what is our assurance that this trip ever took place? Isn’t every component subject to counterfeiting, from the DHL slips right down to DHL’s database?

How different — and how much more significant — is Nordenankar’s self-portrait from a drawing I might create with a laser pointer from star to star in the night sky?

For me these questions don’t denigrate The World’s Biggest Drawing at all, in fact they deepen my experience of it. There’s a “Greatest Show on Earth” aspect to it that almost demands that deception play a part, the entertainment value of which might be blown out to puffy-haired sequin-suited bombasticity by a David Copperfield, a David Blaine, or any other given deceiver/entertainer. Yet, like most art pieces of its ilk, it comes freeze-dried, with plain-lettered explanations and the plainest possible layout.

This in spite of the name — The World’s Biggest Drawing — which has Vegas written all over it. I want to see this presented on five acres of digital screen in front of the Bellagio, with Wayne Newton singing tribute, and a gift shop offering T-shirts, sweatshirts, ball caps and signed prints in limited editions of 500,000.

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Bill

Andrea Ray – Désire – Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University

I knew nothing about the student uprisings in Paris in May of 1968 prior to stopping by Zilkha Gallery, and what little I know now comes from limited reading afterward. Neither a visit to Andrea Ray’s exhibition, nor twenty minutes of reading, is likely to inform me greatly about this important historical moment. Take that for a disclaimer before reading on.

In very broad overview, it appears that the conflict was fairly typical for its time; liberal college students had gripes against a conservative establishment and held a variety of protests. The universities at first intervened, but were then overwhelmed. The government’s subsequent interventions were so heavy-handed as to turn the public away from the conservative, traditionalist establishment, and toward the liberal causes and interests of the students. This, I now read, apparently resulted in a broad cultural shift away from conservatism in France. May of 2008 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Paris student uprisings, not a bad time for some to reconsider them, and for others, like me, to learn about them.

In the handout accompanying this three-part exhibition, Ms. Ray asks, “Could the Paris model of community, social and political agency be employed in this country at a time when deepening crisis is coupled with fear and apathy?” Parallels between Paris in 1968 and America in 2008 are rather painful on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe the abundance of online outlets for bloviation has bled away the impetus to take to the streets, or depressed us into apathetic torpor. Regardless, there have been few times in history when Americans have had so much worth protesting.

The first component of Désire I encountered was Rehearse, in the cavernous concrete Main Gallery. Picture a long room, glass on the left, gray concrete floor and wall to the right, perhaps fifteen feet wide and fifty or sixty feet long, ceiling far overhead. Along the floor, parallel rows of low gray boxes, looking like tall square pedestals lain on their sides, are arranged like pews in a chapel. At the front are two very large black-fronted speaker cabinets, poorly crafted. Voices ring from the speakers against the cold walls, actors reciting a dramatic script.

Ms. Ray’s literature states that “The audio component of Rehearse is loosely based on (writer and director Marguerite) Duras’ screenplay for the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour and conveys the impossibility of speaking of war – as discussed through the discourse of love and metonymic desire.” For me, competent acting made Hiroshima’s somewhat tedious love story bearable. I found the audio acting in Rehearse quite difficult to listen to. One female voice in particular carried the heavy over-enunciation you sometimes hear in certain poets who apparently savor every phoneme like fine wine. After a few minutes I had to move on, keeping the memory of the stark dramatic read in mind.

The remaining two components of Désire were situated at the far end of Zilkha Gallery. Fifteen blurry photos of empty Paris intersections filled three walls of the end chamber, each photo perhaps 18 x 24 inches – again, I’m estimating. Titled Occupied, this series shows streets that students blocked during the Paris uprisings. Their absence, and, for me, the absence of any living person in most of the photographs, gave a haunted feeling to them that was only accentuated by their blurriness. In some cases civic architecture filled the astigmatic distance, giving the sense of lost or distorted political identity. A kind of longing permeates these images, independent even of the artist’s intended meaning, and I found myself returning to them again and again. In considering them now, I sense a longing for a culture that, even if only a short jog away, seems somehow to be irretrievably lost.

These images surrounded on three sides The Gift, a finely crafted piece consisting of a long dinner table and chairs made out of flawless plywood, with six beige-colored speakers sunk into the table’s surface. From Ms. Ray’s literature:

“At her dinner parties on rue Saint-Benoît, Duras often served a homemade soup. The Gift, then, is a recorded dinner party. It is the result of an actual dinner party at the artist’s home at which she served a “conceptual soup” to honor Duras’ memory. The conversations at the dinner party were recorded with a microphone at each seat. They are replayed in The Gift on individual speakers at each place setting.”

This visually enjoyable piece is clearly symbolic; the perfectly right-angled chairs would be murder to sit in, let alone enjoy a meal. All sawn angles are pure and perfect at ninety degrees. Plywood – you use it to cover shattered windows, or to protect them from shattering, or to hammer together impromptu structures when time is of the essence, yet this plywood has clearly seen no violence. The sense of an invitation to join the table is mitigated by the aforementioned torture seats and by the places being filled with voice-emitting speakers. Nonetheless, for a while, anyway, I wanted to be a part of the conversation.

And yet it was all so cold. The conversation occurred at the same temperature as the dining set’s mathematical perfection. Six (apparently) people extemporized (again, apparently) over politics and the Paris student uprisings with the chill reserve of the white-bread upper-middle-class. Voices at times rose to the mid-level passion appropriate to polite dinner conversation, and were mingled with the sounds of eating, utensils clinking against porcelain, mouths chewing, sipping, breathing.

The square edges and coldness of The Gift returned me mentally to the difficult enunciations of Rehearse, and back again to the empty intersections of Occupied. I found myself regretting the absence of warm, living and acting people, and the distance we stand now from the volatility, if not the danger, of a world that, even as late as May of 1968, had youth, greenness, potential.

Désire is on view at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University until May 25.

Image from The Hartford Courant

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Lenny

Some New Color

When it comes to art history, classes usually only discuss the nation’s capital in terms and in the context of the Washington Color School, a 1960s art movement whose members are also often referred to as the “stripe painters” or “Color Field artists.” Their paintings and mixed media works emphasized abstracted fields and expanses of color that conveyed a sense of infinity, and being immersed in an environment of color.  Artists such as Gene Davis and Morris Louis went on to have great impact upon 20th century art with their works that defined this color field movement.

Detail from Phantom Tattoo by Gene Davis
Detail from “Phantom Tattoo” by Gene Davis

Inspired by that art movement, Washington area artist Robert Kent Wilson recently completed a project that he calls “Some New Color.” This is a permanent public art installation in the retail level display windows located at 400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, a mixed-use residential condominium building in downtown Washington, DC.

“We are so pleased with what Robert has created at 400 Massachusetts Ave. NW for the residents of the building, and for anyone that encounters the artwork as they pass by the site,” describes Patricia Zingsheim, former chair of the Condo Association’s Building Committee, and a current resident.   “His work is very well suited and appropriate for the space, and it adds a beautiful and colorful dimension to the street experience for all to enjoy.”
 
Viewed from the street and best seen at night, “Some New Color” extends for approximately 130 feet in fourteen separate locations along the street front windows.  With the opportunity to use such an expanse of space, Wilson was inspired to create a continuous field of color and started with individual images blown up to a grand scale, which were then installed in a series, pairing images with the spaces.
Image of Installation by Wilson
Ultimately, Wilson viewed the project as an opportunity to pay homage to the Washington Color School artists and the movement that they created more than 45 years ago, as well as to highlight his own role as a contemporary Washington artist.

“I don’t necessarily consider myself strictly a Color Field artist, but my inspiration embodies much of what those artists did more than 40 years ago, with a heightened sense of awareness and a contemporary approach,” described Wilson.  “This project allowed me to show my appreciation to the Washington Color School by adding some new color to the landscape.”

To commemorate the public art project, a series of Wilson’s original color field works used to create the installation will be on view also at 475 H Street, NW in a gallery style exhibition.  An opening reception will be held on Thursday, June 5 from 6-9PM; the event is free and open to the public.

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Bill

Writing a New Story of Art

I’ve begun to think of much of art history in the last part of the twentieth century as a story about a vital organ of humanity slowly peeling away from the rest, becoming rarefied, highfalutin, relevant to its time perhaps but in ways that few could appreciate. But a funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century: the story of art exploded. Or, as some have put it and as I like to say, one story of art history ended, and a new one began.

Whether you agree or disagree with that thought, it’s clear that something fundamental has changed in the art world. Broad, powerful movements seem no longer to arise, at least not in the same way as Pop and Ab-Ex, for example, while micro-movements, so to speak, seem to appear and evaporate over just a few years. Small works abound and are taken seriously, abstractions proliferate, video and multimedia work seems more prominent than ever, new aesthetics develop and fade away like fantastic, flowering weeds. The aspect of the fine arts discourse that once took place between a few artists in a few bars in a few cities on a few nights is now an ongoing conversation between hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of artists in thousands of cities and towns around the world.

I’ve become so impressed with the sense of newness these changes imply that my approach to art, both my own and of others, is much more immediate than in prior decades. I tend to be less interested in an artist’s intent, for example, or in the way a contemporary work might relate to historical work, at least until I’ve come to an appreciation based on other aspects. I’ve come to suspect that it’s a detriment if a work of art requires a deep or esoteric understanding of any other subject. My patience for art that comes with a homework requirement has worn very thin.

It appears to me that, as artists and as those who enjoy, write about, exhibit, collect and otherwise interpret art, an exhilarating opportunity has been placed before us to write a new story. This story can be – in fact already is – incredibly inclusive, rather than restricted to ideas enunciated by deceased Western academics. It can inspire most if not all viewers, rather than single out a few for inspiration and leave the rest gaping deadly, resenting sometimes that their tax dollars funded it. In this new story, art could be written deeply into the culture at large, enriching and bringing perspective and added dimensions of education.

Perhaps, with time, we’ll see that this supposed new story of art is really just the old story repackaged and refurbished, Vasari 2.0. Even if this turns out to be the case, the way in which art now appears to develop, along multiple axes and in many different directions at once, promises to bear fascinating fruit.

That’s why I’m excited about writing for this new publication, and why I hope you’ll keep reading, contributing with your comments, and being involved with art in whatever way makes sense for you. And, who knows? Maybe as we write the next story of art together, we can write a better story for humanity as well.

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Lenny

Artomatic

It takes an empty building, anywhere from 600 to 1,000 visual artists, actors, bartenders, and art lovers; a lot of hard work, very few rules, and you get Artomatic.

Held irregularly every couple of years or so since 1999, Artomatic is the Greater Washington, DC region’s free-for-all, non juried, all open, democratic visual arts extravaganza and the closest art event that our nation’s capital has to an open art biennial.

Back in 1999 a handful of enterprising and hardworking DC area artists convinced the management of an empty historical building to let them use the building for an open art show. Within a month, three hundred and fifty artists had cleaned, installed lights, painted and gallerized the 100,000 square feet building which once hosted a massive laundry and dry cleaning business. That year over 20,000 visitors attended the first Artomatic, held over six weeks, by far the largest art event held in DC that year.

And it continued to grow and expand as empty buildings were made available to Artomatic artists by developers.

By 2000 music and performances of all kinds became part of the event, and in that second year 665 artists exhibited and 200 performed as thousands of visitors flocked to the show.

In 2002 more than 1,000 artists and performers took part in the event and even more joined in 2004 at the old Capitol Children’s Museum. By then over 40,000 people were visiting the show and also by then the Washington main stream media was savaging the show, aiming its criticism at the lack of a curatorial hand and ignoring the key core of the event: a free and open exhibition for all.

Blake Gopnik, the erudite and Oxford-educated Chief Art Critic for the Washington Post wrote:

Here’s a fine idea. Let’s find an abandoned school and then invite local dentists to ply their trade, free of charge, in its crumbling classrooms, peeling corridors and dripping toilets. Okay, so maybe we won’t get practicing dentists to come, but we might get some dental students, hygienists and retirees to join in our Happy Tooth festival. What the heck, let’s not be elitists here: Why don’t we just invite anyone with a yen for tooth work or some skill with drills to give it a go. Then we can all line up, open wide and see what happens.

I’ll be at the front of the line.

After all, it could hardly be more excruciating than this year’s Artomatic, the fourth edition of the District’s creative free-for-all, which opens tomorrow. Organizers have gotten about 600 local “artists” — anyone who could ante up the $60 fee and 15 hours of his or her time, in fact — to display their creations. They’re on show in the sprawling, scruffy building in north Capitol Hill that once housed the Capital Children’s Museum and several charter schools.

The result is the second-worst display of art I’ve ever seen. The only one to beat it out, by the thinnest of split hairs, was the 2002 Artomatic, which was worse only by virtue of being even bigger and in an even more atrocious space, down by the waterfront in a vacant modern office building.

I won’t dwell on the art. And I certainly won’t name names. No one needs to know who made the wallfuls of amateur watercolors, yards of incompetent oil paintings, acres of trite street photography and square miles of naive installation art that will be polluting this innocent old building for the next three weeks. There’s something for everyone to hate. The rest are works only a mother could love.

But art lovers, art dealers seeking new talent, art collectors looking for new art, and artists looking to exhibit their work, continued to love the event, and Artomatic made a stop in neighboring Virginia for the first time last year, occupying the former Patent and Trademark building in nearby Crystal City right across the Potomac River. In spite of even more hostile critical reviews from the press, it drew over 40,000 visitors.

What Gopnik and other harsh art critics of AOM miss, is that the event is not just about the art. Take any 1,000 artist-event, even a curated one, and you’ll be astounded by the degree of “bad art” that gets included. Do the last 2-3 Whitney Biennials come to mind?

Artomatic (or AOM as the locals call it) is also about delivering spectacular re-charging of artistic batteries for a city often dominated by poisonous partisan politics, world class museums that ignore local artists, powerful media presences that focus on politics and ignore a vibrant regional art scene, and one of the highest concentrations of individual wealth in the world with apparent little interest in acquiring original art.

At AOM, artists mingle with each other, learn from each other, party with each other, and – and this is a really important and – exhibit and show their work to 40,000 people who otherwise would be blissfully ignorant of the healthy and vibrant art scene in the Greater DC region.

And it pays off for the few who rise above the masses.

Just this year Gopnik wrote glowingly of the very talented Dumbacher brothers artistic team; one of their first DC appearances was the 1999 AOM. The second AOM saw the debut of Tim Tate. At that AOM you could purchase an original Tate glass sculpture for $300. I discovered Tate there and we gave him his first gallery solo show in my former gallery in Georgetown. A few weeks ago, two Tate pieces were auctioned off for $41,000 each.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are familiar with the Postsecret phenomenon. Its brilliant creative mind, Frank Warren, started his amazing worldwide art project at the third AOM.

Those are some of the big name success stories of this amazing arts extravaganza; there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other success stories associated with the event, which keeps growing, showing and recharging our artistic spirit, in spite of those who simply see bad art in front of them.

The current version of Artomatic opened on May 9 and runs through June 15, 2008. It is located at the Capitol Plaza I building (located at 1200 First Street, NE in Washington, DC). All the events and details that you need to know are at www.artomatic.org.

Later: a review of the 2008 Artomatic.

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Lenny

Campello: Let me begin

And so it begins, a whole new experiment and experience in the visual arts blogsphere for all of us (and hopefully many of you) as three of us begin to cooperate in this new art blog and write, review, comment, complain, gossip, discover and create a new digital footprint in the arena of the visual arts.

I’m going to start by doing something that I do well: telling you a little about who Campello is.

I am a practicing artist, a regularly and widely published freelance art critic, a former gallerist (looking to soon open a new gallery), an art dealer and an overall big mouth. If you live anywhere near the Greater Washington, DC area, you can often hear me on NPR discussing art issues. If you live anywhere in the Spanish speaking world, you can also hear me once in a while on the Voice of America. Elsewhere, once in a while you can see me discussing art on the syndicated TV program “ArtsMedia News.”

And since 2003 I have been blogging about art over at Daily Campello Art News.

Here I hope to expand my opinions, ideas, criticism, gossip, reviews, agenda, biases and thoughts to an ever expanding audience while getting paid to do so and being given a completely free reign and without any obligations to the site’s sponsor!

Life is good; Come back often!

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Admin

A major exhibition, under the interstate

 

A man views one of 231 photographs exhibited under the interstate by Zoe Strauss.

Zoe Strauss Under I-95 PHILADELPHIA

Sunday May 4th-Sunday May 4th (one day only)

Photographer Zoe Strauss has mounted a major exhibition on the support beams under Interstate 95 for the past 8 years. Though she was a part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial and has a book coming out she still considers her annual public installation to be the most important work she does. This was the first year I was able to make it out to the event, even though I’ve lived in Philadelphia (also Ms. Strauss city of residence) for five-ish some years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted such bitter regret; I should have made it a point to be going all this time. 

231 (67 never-before-seen by the public unless you count her blog) were hung in a very professional manner, if you didn’t know that you were under an interstate you might imagine you were in an actual art-space. . .perhaps some hip industrial warehouse gallery in London or New York. The photographs rose their humble surroundings to their level, structures created to skateboard on became little sculptures, beer and water bottle trash looked like art, and shelters created by the homeless could have been art installation.

There is also the wonderful concept of taking photos of a community (the majority of Zoe’s photography is of Philadelphia) and giving them back to the community you took them from. It doesn’t get any more public then under the interstate, audience members perused the photography with their bikes in one hand, on roller blades, or while skateboarding. Each print was available at a price anyone could scramble to afford; $5. It was beautiful, totally wonderful, and probably the best thing I have ever seen. 

 

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