Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Artomatic 2002

Using the Wayback Machine, I rescued this review that I wrote in 2002 for Culture Flux Magazine. Here it is below for your reading pleasure and for Artomatic historical records.


Taking a spin through the vast expanse of local art.

By F. Lennox Campello

I’m on my fourth or fifth visit to Art-O-Matic, my feet are hurting from all the walking and to add insult to injury, I am now lost on the third floor until I find Sean Hennessey (the artist on floor-walking duty) to rescue me. He directs me to a few more rooms, including the one with his artwork. Hennessey has a small room full of surreal paintings that are actually painted wall sculptures, and he also has painted the room itself – creating an unique work of art that will be left behind when Art-O-Matic closes.

Mix about 100,000 square feet of empty office space, a variety of very hardworking volunteers in partnership with the indefatigable Anne Corbett of the Cultural Development Corporation, and about 1,000 Washington area artists and the result is the best thing that happens to Washington art every few years: Art-O-Matic.

This huge orgy of art, theatre, music, parties, performance, weirdness, solidarity and most importantly a knock-out of a visual punch to those who still think that the Washington area art scene is (pick your choice): conservative, dull, dead, not-like-New-York, blah, blah, blah. The reality is that the Washington area art scene is in high gear and alive and growing

The plan for the exhibition: Find a large (read: enormous), empty commercial space (in this case the old EPA offices at the Waterside Mall, 401 M St, SW), get the landlord to give it up for a month or so, and open it to anyone who is or claims to be an artist, performer, or actor.

Art for the people

The process itself is democratic and doesn’t involve any jurying. At Art-O-Matic anyone and everyone can exhibit their work. As a result, the exhibition delivers a huge diversity of skills, subjects, media, presentations, goals, and ideas. Curiously enough, even the most amateur of artists, with the muddiest of watercolors and kitschiest of subjects is a refreshing change in an art world dominated by reproductions and mass-produced art.

Now in its third iterationn (Art-O-Matic takes place irregularly every two years or so), this year’s Art-O-Matic is by far the best. The organizers seem to have been able to reach nearly every strata of Washington area demographics. It’s a show of who we are, with all of our multihued ethnicities, cultures, races, and the wonderful names that challenge the tongue and entertain the eyes as much as the artwork does. This is Art-O-Matic’s greatest asset: the vast and diverse pool of artists from which it can draw. What other city in America (OK, OK, other than perhaps New York), can offer a nearly endless source of area artists from all the cultures and corners of the world? This is Washington’s own Biennale without the nose-in-the-air attitude of Venice or Havana or Berlin or Rio.

Speaking of Havana, it seems like every Washington photographer has been there in the last year. However, among the hundreds of photographers in the show, I must single out the Cuban photographs of Kay Springwater, especially a piece titled “Amigos, Viales,” which shows two old Cuban friends -- the pure blood of European Spain clearly evident in their pink Spanish faces and noble demeanor -- as tall and elegant as two nobles from an El Greco painting.

Also the work of Matt Dunn, always managing to dig out with his silver gelatin mechanical brush that “odd something” in the most common of subjects. Allen Caredio Jackson, Jr.’s photographs of DC carnival dancers and revelers, covered in mud from head to toe, are lyrical and modern narrative photographs that offer us the marriage of mud rituals from ancient Africa to contemporary hot bodies from DC. Jackson also pushes the media via his unusual presentation, where he uses car parts, including a tire, as his frames.

Allen Caredio Jackson, Jr.
by Allen Caredio Jackson, Jr.

Install this

The old EPA building is full of small offices and cubbyholes and as such presents great opportunities for installation artists, most of whom lean towards darkened rooms and use light and music to deliver their ideas. 

My favorite among many strong installations was the collaboration by Jordan Tierney and Marcia Hart titled “Aqueduct.”

Jordan Tierney and Marcia Hart titled “Aqueduct.”
Jordan Tierney and Marcia Hart “Aqueduct.”

Tierney and Hart offer us a pristine white room where clear, empty glass vessels, shaped like small virginal amphorae, are lined up in severe rows forming a block in front of a large glass bottle filled with water. This is a powerful installation, which made me somewhat uneasy by its severity and Teutonic geometry – like a row of acolytes in front of some cult leader, waiting to be filled with religion, or Nazi storm troopers, waiting to be filled with hate. This is perhaps the most effective piece in the entire show.

There are several interactive pieces throughout the exhibit. Best amongst these are Ann Stoddard’s “Application Center, Waiting Room” and “Once Upon A Time,” by Mary Twombley and Phillip Kohn.

Once Upon A Time” is perhaps the most popular work in Art-O-Matic and it earns my vote as the most entertaining. It is an interactive video piece, where anyone can add three seconds of recorded video and sound to a storyline started by Twombley and Kohn. It is sometimes funny and sometimes erudite, but makes sense in a weird, surrealist form, where a few sentences can take a hundred different variations.


Art-O-Matic is always good for sex, and this one is no exception. You’ll find still penises (pun intended), breasts, and vaginas of all sizes, shapes, and colors, and fetishes to cover most desires. Among these, the best works belong to painter Richard Takeuchi, whose superbly painted canvases salute bondage with an artistic ferocity that only a skilled painter can deliver.

There are also some very good pen and ink drawings, colored with watercolor washes, by Walter Clark that show the skill and freshness of the similar suite of works delivered by a young Picasso. Clark shows sexy works of stripers, exotic dancers, hookers, and other sex merchants, purified by the all-cleansing power of art. Speaking of hookers, Chad Alan has a stage-full of them. They are elegant mixed medias which offer painting, stitching, fabric and paper to deliver an eroticism hidden behind a red curtain on a stage on the third floor of the building, like can-can girls in an erotic French show.

There are many excellent painters sprinkled throughout the show. Cheryl Foster, stands out as usual (one of the best painters in Washington), as does Judy Jashinsky and Ardath Hill. I also enjoyed the series of tiny paintings by Allison B. Milner, some of which fit in the previous category, reeking of sex and sensuality, but nevertheless display remarkable painting skills, with joyful brushwork and little fear for the challenges of oil painting.

I also liked Bradley J. Rudich, who works mixed media on wood panels that show nothing but monochromatic faces delivered with the minimal of brushstrokes on rough, unfinished wood slivers crowned with halos made from old CDs.

Other skilled painters fixate on unusual objects which merit some note. Brenda Meek is a pretty good painter who “couldn’t get excited about the figure or still life” so she borrowed a goat skull and now offers us a room full of paintings of – you guessed it – goat skulls. And then there’s Virginia Schofield, who is also a very good painter, and who is apparently fixated nothing but shoes.

On politics

In the political arena, there’s a generous helping of forgettable Bush-bashing artwork, but the best is a superb room with walls filled with black paintings of burka-clad women, like an Islamic Stonehenge surrounding the viewer, while babies dangle from the ceiling, as human bombs being dropped by anonymous killers.

It is the work of Katherine Janus Kahn and it poses a sobering question to the “people who teach young men only hate and destruction and makes them into human bombs.” 

The artist adds that she is“concerned with a culture that isolates and restricts its women to the role of baby-making, in effect making them human missile-delivery systems.” 

Her installation drives home her idea with disquieting effectiveness.

When Mothers are Missiles and Children are Bombs
by Katherine Janus Kahn.

Tim Tate - Glass Heart 2002
Glass Heart by Tim Tate
 Finally, for the second year in a row, Tim Tate’s superb glass pieces steal the show in the three dimensional  category. 

 Tate has absolutely refined his art and vision -- first kindled by the death of his mother, which he expressed by an  obsessive return to making small, beautiful glass hearts -- to the point where he is easily the best glass artist in our region.

 Art-O-Matic offers the best and the worst that artists can create, but it is easily the best art show of the year in Washington, a happening and event that clearly deflates the defeatist attitude of those who insist that there’s no such thing as a great Washington art scene.