Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Artomatic 2008

The real reason that most art critics hate Artomatic is that they get visual overload very quickly. After all, how does a writer cover an arts extravaganza of the size of Artomatic once the eyes and mind become numb after the 200th artist, or the 400th or the 600th?

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

By freeling accepting anywhere from 600 - 1,000 painters, sculptors, printmakers, actors, musicians and bartenders and then finding an empty building and filling it with artwork, stages, theatres, parties, lectures and controversy, the AOM model has managed to incite the dislike of most art critics and the love and passion of thousands of artists and art lovers.

They also create 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.

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 a 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.

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

We know that 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!

AOM is not just about the artwork, it is about the artistic energy that it radiates, it is about community, it is about a free for all, it is about controversy, it is above all, about art of all ranges and tastes and quality.

The current AOM is at a gorgeous location at the Capitol Plaza I building at 1200 First Street, NE in DC. There are seven, maybe eight, floors of artwork all the way up to the 11th floor, in many mini galleries with spectacular views of the city. The main impression at this year's AOM: space.

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

Each AOM has produced amazing 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.

And so part of the fun 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.

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. My 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.

Ink drawings by Holly Burns
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 but also superbly done and I bet that we’ll hear about this artist again and again; she seems perfect for Curator's Office in DC.

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 gallerist or two to them.

Shannon McCarty’s inventive set of burned iron marks reveal the surprising achievement of minimalism when employed smartly. Also minimalist are the hi tech (looking) works by Paul So. Also visit Keith Thomas on that floor.

The 7th floor is a treasure trove of good artists amongst the masses. Nana Bagdavadze is somewhat channeling Amy Lin to the third dimension as she takes the small circle to an illusion of three-D. Teague Clare’s small 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.

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 a 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 brings us Michael Auger’s day glow 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 glass and 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. This floor also brings you Matt Sesow and Alison Sigethy.

The 9th opens with 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).

The 10th floor has the 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 teleport 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 and should be immediately picked up by Habatat Gallery), Novie Trump, Ani Kasten, Kate Hardy (gorgeously displayed) and others in this spectacular group.

Leila Holtsman

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 visit Krissy Downing and Gregory Ferrand and marvel at 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 dealing with art critics. 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 time the music to video to pre-arrange for that art to pop up at that time... it is worth viewing the video just for that!

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


matthew langley said...

Thanks for the mention of my work at this years AOM.

With so much going on at AOM, I'm always afraid that no one sees my work.

thanks for taking the time to look and write.

Matthew Langley

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I'm going Friday (31st) and welcome the can be overwhelming, even as you find work to admire around every corner

I was in the first 3, visited the rest, and you nailed it

Gordon Binder

Anonymous said...


Here are my 2008 AOM picks in no particular order; truly a visually exhausting but attainable task. As before, previous year picks and personal friends are not up for consideration.

* J.J. McCraken (ceramics : Simply brilliant! Taking ceramics to a new level such as where Tim Tate has pushed glass art.)
* Matthew Carucci (mixed media)
* Matthew Langley (oils)
* Jeff Wilson (oils : Construction Site) Hands down, my personal pick for most amazing and powerful artwork at this year’s Artomatic. Truly enjoyed his work at Waterside AOM and glad to see it again.
* Kristian Whipple (photography : The Mighty, Mighty, Halftruth installation)
* David Hartwell (photography / Xerography)
* Rich Hamilton (screen prints)
* Matt MacIntire (sculpture)
* Gail Vollrath (mixed media)
* Dave D’Orio (glass)

JS Adams /

Anonymous said...

Overall, the quality of this AoM isn't what it was, say in 2004, but there were many good things, I'd say about 25-30%.
You didn't mention Johanna Mueller, who's print "Levitations" I just had to own!