Monday, November 15, 2004

And the Artomatic firestorm gathers more words!

James W. Bailey responds to Jamie Wimberly's posting:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves," (Matthew 7:15).

James W. BaileyIt is unlikely that most will ever meet an artist who will say, "I am a false prophet, follow me."

A "spiritual" artist will present themselves as a true prophet; and they will indeed appear to be true. But when confronted by a false prophet artist, one must search deeper and examine the artistic, social, psychological and legal implications of their words and ideas. False prophet artists will speak their prophecies and teachings with a golden tongue that will seem true and desirable. The best method of discerning the truth of a false prophet artist is by subjecting their prophecies and teachings to a critical examination of the implications of their artistic vision. The truth will stand the strongest test; error will be exposed.

Mr. Wimberly would have us believe the art world has devolved and is corrupt; he is right. He would also have us believe that standards need to be implemented to salvage the concept of real art from the masses; he is wrong.

Mr. Wimberly laments the fact that too many non-real artists are polluting the universe with their un-real art through events such as Artomatic. If, in his world, we only had an Inter-Galactic Art Commission of learned art professionals who would design, develop and implement a legal code of professional art standards, enforced by a Federation Art Police, of course, then we could all safely enjoy the privilege of viewing, absorbing, contemplating, being inspired by and buying real art made by real artists.

No doubt, under Mr. Wimberly’s scheme for the rehabilitation and salvation of the art world, such an Inter-Galactic Art Commission would be legally empowered to issue Professional Art Licenses to real artists so that these licensed real artists would be legally permitted to ply their craft to a more culturally sensitive audience who would be protected by the knowledge that the artists who they are likely to buy from are safe, certified and state approved by an art regulatory agency that operates in everyone’s best interest.

No doubt Mr. Wimberly, because of his profound insight concerning the corruption of the definition, meaning and purpose of contemporary fine art, would also expect to be asked to serve in the capacity of Board Director of the Inter-Galatic Art Commission so that he could more effectively advocate for his art philosophy to be enshrined into a Felony Criminal Art Code that would be enforced against those unlicensed un-real artists who would dare to try to operate under the radar in the back alleys of the illegal art gallery districts around the world, including Artomatic.

Allow me to offer some down-home Mississippi no B.S. wisdom from the perspective of an artist who recognizes a false prophet when he sees one. What Mr. Wimberly is really concerned about is this: He and a bunch of "real" artists he knows ain’t makin’ enough money out there in the REAL world tryin’ to sell stuff they "create" that other people think is junk and just plain don’t wanna buy!

Do I believe the modern art world is corrupt? Let me put it this way: I basically believe that the modern art world has absolutely turned its back on the general population. It has for some time now been taken over and hijacked by an elitist element of art snobs and ethereal professionals who have done everything in their power to remove the context, purpose and vibrancy of art from the realm of the people and have placed it in the ivory tower cages of the museum and gallery structure.

The present art world system allows these self-anointed art gods, the Artfanistas as I call them, to build successful and well paid careers as museum directors, curators, art dealers, gallery owners, and yes, a handful of internationally celebrated artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, who Mr. Wimberly properly despises.

The modern art system is one with a historic parallel: Being from Mississippi, I know all about the share-cropping system. What exists today in the art world, especially in this country, is an art version of the post-Civil War Mississippi Delta plantation. The plantation owners are the so-called leading art museums. The plantation foremen are the museum curators. The sharecroppers are the emerging artists who strive to be "real" artists under the definition of what is “real” that is defined by god knows who. What you have to do as an artist sharecropper, and as a human being, to elevate your self through the plantation system to artistic independence, to that coveted position of celebrated international artist superstar, is almost unspeakable. Selling out doesn't even begin to describe it.

The results for the artistic health of this country are horrible. The average American is absolutely alienated from contemporary art. They are alienated because they have been treated with contempt by the modern art establishment. The thinking that prevails in New York is that the average American is a cultural idiot who is too unsophisticated to understand the secret language of modern art.

"Therefore, considering how stupid most art ignorant Americans are, especially those idiots down South in the Red States, it would be an incredible waste of our valuable time and resources to share our wealth of secret knowledge with them to help them understand what they don't know and will never appreciate," New York Artfanista.

The fact of the matter is that the average American is damned smart and can smell bullshit from a thousand miles away, all the way up to the top floor of The Whitney Museum of Art in New York and right down the road to their local frustrated suburban upper-middle class white talent-challenged semi-depressed I-want-to-suffer-the-life-of-the-real-urban-poor-people-so-I-can-sensitively-present-the-painful-imagery-of-their-miserable-lives artist who sits in his or her rented inner-city crack-house basement “studio” whining and crying about how the world sucks because the concept of real art has been lost and nobody will support them as an artist and buy their crap!

The Gospel According to St. James the Photographer of Experiments:

Littoral Art: The Art of the Gift - I believe that an ethical artist who lives a life of integrity has a responsibility to share their art in a way that intersects with and becomes part of the life of their community, society and nation. I believe in the principles of moral art as articulated by Bruce Barber in his work, “Sentences on Littoral Art”. This is a radical position for art because it has nothing to do with art objects within the modern art milieu where it's all about getting your 15 minutes and $15 million for a “created” object.

The present modern art super-structure works against the principles of Littoral Art. The current system is set up to further the careers, artistic and professional, of those on the inside who are obsessed with art objects. The rewards for success are fame and money. At the end of the day, what does the art created do to make the world a better, safer more peaceful place? Nothing...because that is not even the goal under this system.

I strongly believe that artists have the power to change the world. Not just interpret it or represent it or create art objects about it. What I mean by that is that artists can use an expanded definition of art to advocate, instruct, share and involve people in demanding reforms of corrupt systems of power, whether political, social or cultural.

I believe that Artomatic, whatever its failings may be, is a step in the right direction to an expanded definition of art.

Mr. Wimberly’s views reflect the endless obsessions of far too many artists who have been left behind on planet Earth who pine for the day when high quality hand-crafted artistic art objects were the definition of art and were sought after and fought over by sophisticated art collectors; indeed, a beautiful era when a handful of expert artisans were elevated to near god-like status and enjoyed the wealth bestowed upon them by the spiritually enlightened with access to unlimited funds in Swiss bank accounts.

Some of us less nostalgic and less ambitious artists took advantage of mid-20th century space flight opportunities and traveled to distant stars and galaxies and have seen the power of art removed from the object. We have for some time now been sending encoded messages about radical art practices we have discovered on other planets back home to Earth. Some of these messages have been received and decoded by artists you may know. Be warned: Some of the artists who have decoded these messages and shared them with others may in fact be false prophet artists; indeed, some may in fact be false artists profiting as real artists.

The WORD has been given: There is no excuse to not recognize such false prophet artists now... indeed, I may be one myself, but at least I’m willing to admit to the possibility that I am.


James W. Bailey
Experimental Photographer

The Artomatic firestorm rages on!

Joseph Barbaccia responds to Jamie Wimberly's posting:

I wish someone would explain to me why people feel that art needs to be defined, ruled or standardized. WTF?! Doing so is the antithesis of art. Does requiring artistic standards allow people to feel secure? By setting up narrow path to creating art are they defining their own way of creating and trying to impose it on others?

I understand the need for structure. Our lives would be chaos without it. But art, at least in my life, is one of the few remaining areas that are free of standards and rules. I value that fact immeasurably. This one area of unlimited creativity is a rarity in today’s over-regulated world. It allows us total freedom of expression.

My work doesn't have to be labeled Art. I really don’t care what it is called. Call it crap, call it interesting, or call it great. A label does not deny art's existence or its effect. Look at the history. As forms of expression change they must break from "standards" and stand on new ground. Of course, in a matter of time these changes become the "standard" themselves and must be changed again. Look at the history.

Jamie's "standards" are wonderful; for HIM to work under. I believe that setting up a structure, or defining art with a set of rules on a personal level is OK. It’s part of the process. Bring out your scales! Artists do the same with every decision we make when creating a single piece. We define the work by our choices. But I see no reason to lay my creative structure on anyone else. I would no sooner tell a person how to create art than I’d tell them how to be happy. I don’t mind getting a license and taking a test to drive a car, but please, allow me the freedom to make my art the way I believe it should be done. Anything else smells of sour grapes.

Pat Goslee's Artomatic List

Pat Goslee Area artist Pat Goslee is a well-known, talented and widely exhibited artist, and she has participated in several past Art-O-Matics, but is not involved in this year's show.

I first came across Goslee's work in 1995 or 1996 when I wrote this small review of her solo show for Visions Magazine for the Arts.

Below is her own unique list of finds and awards in the 2004 edition of Art-O-Matic (after several visits).

KARMA AWARD = Charles Sthresley

REGARDING BEAUTY AWARD = Linda Hesh + Ami Martin Wilber


RECYCLING AWARD = Elizabeth Lundberg Morisette


FLOP AWARD = Dave Savage

SYCOPHANT AWARD = Thomas Edwards

BEST TITS AWARD = Nicolas Syracuse

SAFETY AWARD = Bridget Vath

SCULPTURE AWARD = Stephon Senegal

CICADA AWARD = Betsy Packard



BEST BARGAIN = Denise Juliano “Funny Farm” $45


SOUL AWARD = Michael Platt





A friend emailed me a note about the Sunday NY Times article about JT LeRoy and LeRoy's words about the first time that he was reviewed:

"I cut the article out and put it on my stomach like it would heal me," Mr. LeRoy said in a twang left over from his West Virginia childhood. "But it didn't heal me. The thing about attention is it's like drinking. One drink is too many, and a million isn't enough."
My friend also adds that "as humans, we are responsible for tending to our own wounds. Is anyone really looking to Blake Gopnik to heal them? Art can heal, but one must do it for one's self. Now turn off the computer and go to the studio!"

Leigh Conner's Top Ten List

Leigh Conner, the hardworking gallery owner of Conner Contemporary, easily one of the best galleries in the region, walked Art-O-Matic last Wednesday and picked her top ten picks. She matched a few from mine and offers her own selections in alphabetical order:

Overall top pick: The Union Station Music Stage Room + Main Entrance

- JTW Black
- Alan Callander
- Richard Dana
- Liz Duarte
- Matt Dunn
- Linda Hesh
- Michael K. Ross
- Tim Tate
- Kelly Towles
- Ami Martin Wilber

Photographer James W. Bailey steps into the Artomatic firestorm with the following very inventive note:

Is Blake Gopnick possibly sending the art world a coded message about Artomatic 2004?

Anterograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia is a selective memory deficit, resulting from brain injury, in which the individual is severely impaired in learning new information. Memories for events that occurred before the injury may be largely spared, but events that occurred since the injury may be lost. In practice, this means that an individual with amnesia may have good memory for childhood and for the years before the injury, but may remember little or nothing from the years since. Short-term memory is generally spared, which means that the individual may be able to carry on a conversation; but as soon as he is distracted, the memory of the conversation fades.

It is now becoming apparent that while anterograde amnesia devastates memory for facts or events, it may spare memory for skills or habits. Thus, an individual with amnesia can be taught a new skill, such as how to play a game or how to write backwards. The next day, the amnesic individual will claim to have no memory of the prior session, but when asked to try executing the skill, can often perform quite well - indicating that some memories have been formed. It is an important area of current research to document exactly which kinds of memory can be formed in amnesia, and how this may be used to help rehabilitate amnesic individuals.

Is it possible that Mr. Gopnick suffered a severe trauma incident at Artomatic 2002 that has resulted in him being unable to form post Artomatic 2002 memories?

Is it also possible that Mr. Gopnick has formed the new ability to write backward and that his review on Artomatic 2004 was thus written backward?

I have taken the liberty, inspired by William S. Burroughs’ Word Cut-Ups method, and repositioned Mr. Gopnick’s paragraphs in what I believe to be their proper sequence.

I believe Mr. Gopnick may be trying to send us all a coded message.
Hanging Artomatic 2004 Is Good for It, Too
By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2004

Artomatic costs more than $100,000 to put on, drawing funds from the artists themselves as well as from the public and private sectors; it absorbs major gifts in kind and vast amounts of volunteer time; it gets plenty of media coverage and pulls in tens of thousands of visitors. And all the money and resources and attention that go Artomatic's way are, by definition, not going to serious art that needs a boost, and deserves a higher public profile. Artomatic isn't only good for nothing. It's bad for art that matters.

It's not as though we are a society that fiercely discourages the making of art, one that needs an Artomatic just to make sure anything gets made at all. More art schools turn out more trained artists every year, and they all have to compete for a slice of the same meager pie of patronage, funding and public attention.

What the District truly needs is more displays of carefully selected, quality contemporary art, so that local emerging artists -- and, just as importantly, their public -- would have more and better examples of how serious creativity can work. As things stand, too many local artists, as well as a few of our dealers, get attention they wouldn't get in any city where they faced some decent, savvy competition. The region needs its artistic bar raised another notch or two. Whereas Artomatic, of course, removes the bar entirely and invites anyone and everyone to stroll on in and strut their stuff.

Despite public perceptions, the art world isn't anything like a closed shop: Curators, dealers and critics are always on a desperate hunt for new makers of new kinds of art, and they'll take it absolutely anywhere they can get it. Well-known mid-career artists are the ones who tend to face neglect; the hot young things that no one's seen before are where the action is. I guarantee that anyone with talent who might be discovered at a show like Artomatic would have had a fine chance of being discovered anyway.

After all, there are already lots of institutions dedicated to finding and displaying novel talent in the arts. Several alternative and artist-run spaces in the Washington area -- DCAC, Flashpoint, Transformer and others -- consider almost anything that comes over the transom. Their organizers tell me that the problem isn't a surplus of submissions; programming tends to suffer because they have too few options to choose among.

There may be a remote chance that such a person has been laboring unrecognized in a garret somewhere in Washington and that only Artomatic could have coaxed him out of hiding. But it's about as likely as finding a genius cavity-filler lurking in our dental open house.

Real, worthwhile art, the kind that says something that hasn't been said a million times before, requires carefully honed, hard-to-acquire skills -- sometimes manual, always visual and intellectual. Almost all artists worth the time of day know what's come before them, understand what's being made around them, and then -- against the odds and with terrifically hard work -- manage, every now and then, to make an art object that can contribute to the larger cultural conversation.

But somehow, over several decades now, we've bought into the nutty idea that fine art matters so very little, and is such easy stuff, that everyone and anyone can make it. (Actually, the idea has disappeared almost entirely among the kind of art professionals and intellectuals who suggested it in the first place, around the turn of the last century. The idea of art-by-anyone at first met with stiff public opposition, even ridicule; I'm only sorry it finally managed to catch on.)

For almost the entire history of Western culture, art was not conceived as something just anyone could or should make. Imagine living in Renaissance Florence and telling one of your Medici pals that you were going to have the family altarpiece painted by Joe Blow the baker, who felt like giving it a try. It would have seemed a joke. An Artomatic would have seemed sheer lunacy. Ditto if you had lived in Rembrandt's Amsterdam, Gainsborough's London or the Paris of Monet. For most of the last 500 years, dentists have been seen as less professional a bunch than artists.

Or worse. A show like Artomatic, in theory organized and stocked by lovers and supporters of fine art, is actively insulting to all the genuinely talented artists who have managed the long slog to a professional career.

You'd think that the purpose of a public exhibition would be to give the public a fair chance of seeing interesting art. Or you might think that it could serve emerging artists, too, by giving them a chance to learn from the best work that's out there. But what useful purpose is served in showing work by anyone who wants to have it seen, however awful it may be? How can an art exhibition be counted as anything other than a dismal failure when it's so bad overall?

I don't blame the people who made this work, bad as it mostly is. This is, as they say, a free country, and if someone wants to mess around with art supplies at home, then only their nearest and dearest have the right to complain. It's the basic premise of this show that is so badly at fault.

There may just be a few decent things hidden in the mix -- with so many thousands of objects on display, the law of averages says there must be. But three hours' worth of looking didn't spot too many. Some of the glasswork looked all right. (Glass is such a gorgeous medium it's hard to screw it up, and you need some basic training even to begin to work in it.) There were a few political one-liners that had some heft. But with works hung pell-mell and cheek-by-jowl in every corner of five floors of shabby rooms and corridors -- lighted by fluorescent tubes and the cheapest clip-on floods -- anything good was bound to get obscured by mediocrity. There's not even an attempt to keep like works together, or to craft oases of somewhat more polished art.

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.

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.

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.

I'll be at the front of the line.

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.
MY [Bailey's] WORDS:

Let’s not be too rough on Mr. Gopnick. Antereograde Amnesia can be terribly debilitating and frequently leads to a great deal of confusion when communicating with a person who has lost the ability to form new memories.


James W. Bailey

The Washington Post's online forum on Artomatic and Gopnik is finally accepting new comments. See them here.

J.T. Kirkland over at Thinking About Art steps into the Artomatic firestorm and gets an earful from his commenters. He also challenges Victoria McKernan's dismissal of Dan Flavin.

This is all a measure of Artomatic's success no matter what you think about the art. Both the BLOGsphere and the lamestream media are full of letters, comments, articles, etc. about the show.

This says that (regardless of how you feel about the art and the artists), this is the most important art event that happens in DC every couple of years.

And who knows whom the undiscovered jewels in this year's Artomatic are?

I have several top ten lists in the wings waiting to be published. Past Artomatics have given us people who are now well-known respected artists such as Dan Steinhilber, Tim Tate, Adam Bradley, Dumbacher Brothers, Richard Chartier, Scott Hutchison and many others.