Lenny

Video Didn’t Kill the Art Star

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart
Oh-a-a-a oh

Michael O’Sullivan’s eloquent review a few years ago in the Washington Post made a powerful point about art videos. Read it here.

 And when I first read it in 2005, it really brought out some thoughts and words out of me.

I have never hidden the fact that in my experience most art videos (which I have sometimes called artists’ home movies) leave me pretty ambivalent, especially as I try to view them as art, (rather than entertainment) next to a great painting or sculpture.

I love movies, and maybe that’s why my brain has such a hard time accepting most - not all - “art videos” as art, rather than “artists home movies.”

In the nearly 70 year history of artists’ home movies, I can probably count in one hand the number of them that I would even remotely consider them as something more than a low budget attempt at making a film, and most of those on that list start before the VCR was invented.

Is making a film the same as making a painting? or an etching? or a sculpture? I could argue that case on both sides, I think.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that most of the voices in the art world that count and weigh in a lot heavier than mine, do still view video (pun intended) as the leading edge for creativity in the modern dialogue of the visual arts (even though the genre is now in its 7th decade).

Witness the recent video overload in this Whitney Biennial list as the most recent evidence.

A history lesson for anyone born after 1980 or so: Before everyone had VCRs (already some folks have no idea what a VCR is!!) or DVD players in their homes, if you wanted to see a movie, you generally had to go to a movie theatre, and if you wanted porn or nudies, many American cities had a seedy neighborhood where porn theatres were concentrated - when I was a kid in Brooklyn, that seedy area was in and around Times Square in NYC.

And just like video killed the radio star in that song, it also killed seedy porn theatres all over the landscape but concurrently it gave the porn industry a huge new life that they had never hereto dreamed of!

It also gave them access to the privacy of the home as it eliminated the requirement to visit a seedy theatre in order to view a porn movie.

And as O’Sullivan intelligently deduced a few years ago, now the old news of Vlogging Revolution handed us all a brilliant opportunity to once and for all do for art videos what VCRs and DVDs did for the porn industry (in a sense), but in this case somewhat remove them from our galleries and museums and put them on the web, where we can watch them whenever and wherever we want!

This is a win-win situation for nearly all; except (I think) video, ahem… artists.

Not for us mossbacks, but it will open up gallery and museum space for other artsy stuff, whatever else “new art” may be lurking out there now disguised as technology (I predict some sort of hologram-type stuff).

I like whatever technology brings to art, but I don’t like it when critics and writers and art symbiots opine that technology erases other art genres when we enter the modern art dialogue.

And for art video aficionados, it will deliver an exponential growth in the genre, as millions of weekend arts and crafts projects now take to the web and populate millions of sites such as YouTube full of new videos.

Did I write “will”? How about “have delivered”!

And I think that as soon as your Aunt Elvira (I do have an aunt so named) sets aside her weekend watercolors and oils, and picks up the new family digital camera (now fully capable of recording movies) and starts making art movies by the millions, I can guarantee that curators will leave tire tracks on their way to find something “new” in art.

The allure of the “new” in art has been an interesting topic for discussion over at Thinking About Art, and I found the below comment by Lou Gagnon right on the point of the issue:

“Innovation, in technology, is important in that it offers ‘new’ tools and techniques. What is made with these new tools and techniques is typically derivative of what was made with the old tools. Most innovation is fueled by a desire to make an existing process more efficient.

Humans have been mixing pigment with fat to document the human condition for tens of thousands of years. The innovations of fresco, oil or acrylic are derivative improvements. Photography offered efficient alternatives to painting in the already established need to document contemporary life (events, people and places). Video offers alternatives to photography in that the linear format has the potential to distribute a more explicit narrative.

Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same. The limit to a tool’s effectiveness is in the imagination of the maker. In art, I believe effectiveness is measure by the power of a work to engage people. Does the engagement temporarily distract someone from his or her daily existence or does it shift his or her paradigms and actions? Work premised on technology will be irrelevant when the technology changes. Work premised on the human condition has the potential to be timeless. Have there been innovations in light, color or form? What about fear, love, desire, freedom or apathy?

The ‘new’ in art is that unique intimate engagement between an individual and his or her relationship with these larger issues. That fragile union between the ephemeral and the eternal is magic.”

Amen! Long live to video and long live to all the other genres of art!

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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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