Sunday, November 14, 2004

Victoria McKernan jumps into the Artomatic debate:

Blake Gopnik's review of Artomatic was so sensitive and insightful.

I'm looking forward to more.

What is he planning to take on next? - handicapped greeting card art? Nursing home poetry collections?

Such Diogenic wit ought not to be wasted.

Of course this is a big, sloppy, mish-mash exhibit full of trite and naive dross.

Hello! - welcome to our species.

Overwhelming mediocrity punctuated with occasional genius is our pattern in everything from art to politics. The brilliant thing about art is that it is not a finite universe where bad work pre-empts or excludes good. The human brain is not some shoe rack in danger of being filled up by one giddy splurge at Payless.

"What is the useful purpose," Gopnik asks, "of showing work by anyone who wants to have it seen?" Oh gosh, maybe something like opening up a door to a world beyond homogenized drone existence; indulging in something called a creative spirit, and suggesting that spirit is present in each of us, and with some exercise, coaxing, or just play, could possibly flourish?

Could you run that one by your exhaled committee Comrade Gopnik?

Perhaps that flourishing will only ever produce lame paintings and bad collage but is that such a threat to fine art that it ought to be so vigorously repressed?

I envision troop storming the aisles of Michael's crafts, carpet bombing Towpath painters and raiding cubicles across America to snatch away Aunt Maggie's watercolor pansies!

Does he know about knitting clubs springing up all over town?

Joe Blow the baker was not painting during the Renaissance because paper and pencil, let alone paint and canvas, were largely unavailable to the unwashed masses. It could be that four years of Artomatic have not yielded a single brilliant artist, but 400 years of European civilization have given us only a handful.

I wonder how many Reubens or Raphaels could simply never get their hands out of the kneading trough?

This is not only a grudging and mean-spirited screed, it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that a dozen Michelangelos are starving now because of the diversion of public funds to support Artomatic. How much money did the National Gallery spend to mount the current Dan Flavin show, which, in my humble, plebian opinion could have been constructed by chimps raiding the lighting department at Home Depot?

It would be great if more "established" artists would participate in Artomatic, but for whatever reason they choose not to. It would be great if more people supported more artists in general, but they don't.

It would be great if everyone in the world were supremely enlightened and shared Mr. Gopnik's exalted artistic standards, but I'll settle for the glorious mess of artistic play that results in so many people participating in a show like this.

I sincerely hope Mr. Gopnik has no children, or at least no refrigerator.
For the record: Past and present Artomatics have yielded artists who have been subsequently selected for the Whitney Biennial, for the Corcoran Biennial, and for DC area galleries such as Alla Rogers, Conner, Fraser, Fusebox and Numark, as well as museums such as the Whitney, Hirshhorn and the Renwick.

Jesse Cohen from ArtDC delivers ArtDC's List of Top Artomatic artists:

In Franklin North Carolina, there is a historical tradition with roots in emerald mines. As a tourist, you can visit, view the real veins, and then buy a bucket of dirt. Hours are spent sifting your dirt at a sleuth to find sapphire chips, and ruby specs, “salted” by the local tourist industry. Occasionally, as I did, one lucky summer day, I found a 100 plus karat sapphire.

A trip to the ’04 Art-O-Matic lent the same feeling, sifting through, and recovering great beauty. It will take several passes through the water to uncover the wealth. Starting on the 5th floor, we ran into the Glass Attic, a group of fine glass artisans; full of colors, patterns, and appeal.

Half way through the bucket, we found Stephon Senegal. I was shocked by the mortality of his sculpture. His booth is worth a second visit.

Through the journey of the veins, more goodies were found, along with nice collections of photography. Such as, Gay Cioffi, and her Glass Quilts, an excellent study of form. Along with Frank Fiorentino who produced a collection of, well, Barbie Porn; dolls in suggestive poses. I’ve seen this by other photographers at Conner Contemporary art, but less suggestive.

Edward's Talking HeadAnd then there was Thomas Edwards, Sycophant Head, and School of Fish Pain installations. The annoying slum head that follows you around the room, and the fish dying out of water. Original: The one word sums it up.

Finally, as we were pushed out for closing, I entered John Aaron’s Congressional Confessional, brilliant, with a sense of humor. I cast my vote in the journal, and chatted with John and Andrea. I’m glad to see politics roll into AOM.

15 minutes into our trip, we found our 100-karat stone. The atmosphere, and environment created by piling 1000s of artists, spectators, collectors and friends in one space with a reason to be there made the show valuable. It was, a happening.

Far from a list of ten, six stood out from a 2-hour time period through the sleuth. With more time, there will be no problem uncovering many lists of 10.

Tracy Lee is a very, very good photographer who recently decided to go for her MFA at GWU.

She responds to Jamie Wimberly's posting as follows:

My two-cent quick and dirty reply to Jamie Wimberly - without having seen ArtOMatic but just commenting on his points (which I appreciate and mostly agree with -- It's refreshing to hear other artists also feel the same.):

1) I believe contemporary art is devalued because no one except the artist and the gallery elite are interested in it. This is not art that the masses can understand or appreciate. It's not art that even I - a person with an art degree and background - can always understand or appreciate. I believe that the lack of focus on technical and the complete focus on the concept is the downfall of contemporary art. "That's not art, I/my kid/my dog could do that" is a common response to contemporary art. For me and others there needs to be at least an appearance of skill behind the work. This puts me at odds with my professors.

2) Art schools & teaching art. I'm in a grad program and I'm being taught concept and no technical skills; the medium doesn't matter. My technical prowess doesn't matter. All that matters is the idea behind my work. I'm not being taught how to fine tune my skills to better get my message across, I'm being taught that I should feel free to drop my chosen medium and pick up anything else if I feel it can better represent what I'm trying to say - regardless of my familiarity or skill level with any other medium; this bothers me a lot. I can agree that I shouldn't feel restricted to only be a photographer, that I should use whatever is at my means and not feel restricted to try something new. But I also know that unless I invest the time and effort to learn the technical side of another medium that my crossover work would suffer from inexperience and look amateurish and sloppy.

4) Public apathy: See #1. I"m certainly not advocating creating art for the WallMart masses, but I feel that the pendulum has slipped so far to the elitist side. No one understands what they are looking at anymore, but there is a "the Emperor has no clothes!" attitude and most people are afraid to acknowledge (let alone voice out loud): Wow, that art really sucks! That's silly, that's just stupid, my dog could do that! I feel that the elitist art world needs a slap of reality and told to "get over yourself!" Also going along with #5

6 - Superstar artists. It's all about the message; doesn't matter who does the work, it's about who had the idea. My Old Skool traditional art background fights this but it is the present day attitude.

7 - Artists get laid? What a second!

And to his points about what she thinks The Art World Needs - I'd just like to say that the first two are things that I'm being taught *against* in school, especially Aesthetics. "Beauty" is a four-letter world. You aren't allowed to say that anything is "nice" or that, heavens forbid, you "like" it! The horrors! It must be visual interesting, stimulating, thought provoking, disturbing, disgusting or invoke any other such reaction but the word "Beautiful" must be avoided at all time. That Is Not Art. Too simplistic. Too easy.

P.S. About what is art and the idea that everything is art....

To quote from mainstream entertainment: "Everyone's special, Dash."

"Which is another way of saying that nobody is."


"And when everyone is super, no one will be." (From The Incredibles).

Also along the lines of the Kurt Vonnegut short story Harrison Bergeron - "The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else."

And Ann Rynd's Fountainhead series: When everyone is special then no one is.

When everything is art then nothing is.
Give them hell Tracy!

I've received nearly 200 emails in the last two days or so dealing with Artomatic; either dealing with the Gopnik root canal of the show or with the diversification of "lists."

Loads of interesting postings will be coming in the next few days (time permitting)... keep checking, and please go visit Artomatic: the show.

Last night I made my third visit, and spent about five hours re-visiting the show together with Prof. Chawky Frenn from George Mason University. I managed to find quite a few artists that I had missed during my first three visits, although I still haven't found Colin Winterbottom!

By the way, those people who have emailed me bitching about Gopnik's review of Artomatic - please remember that it is his right as a critic to express his opinion, and as much as I disagree with it, I will defend his right to express it.

If you disagree with Blake, respect his right to write his opinion, and then send a letter to his boss to express yours!

Letters should be sent to:

Arts Editor
Style Section
The Washington Post
1150 15th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20071

Emails should be sent to

In your letter or email you need to include a daytime and nighttime phone number and an address, and the letters may be edited for length and clarity.