Artomatic: Out of Vitamins
Artomatic comes to a close tomorrow. Thanks to the mad rush to get things online, in print, or on air, the bulk of the chatter around the event popped up in the latter half of May, right after the megaexhibit opened. After all the top-10 lists and photo essays were posted, the dialogue slowed to a trickle. Besides, dashing through nine floors of art before your meter expired left little time to respond to the work. Any first impression would be like those of Jack Burton. So it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor to go back a few times and walk through at a slower pace. Each trip yielded new revelations, introduced me to new artists (at least, new to me), and gave me fresh perspectives on old media.
Yeah. There's a lot of shlock, too. It might take two excellent works to tear the mind away from the soul-sucking paint-pushers trying to reinvent Hans Hoffman by muddying up the color. It would be dishonest to say that the ratio of good to bad is 50:50 or better. But, as Bill Murray once said, "I'm a little fuzzy on this whole good/bad thing."
It's been nearly a decade since Blake Gopnik gave hell to Artomatic, calling it "bad for art that matters." Many of the points he made in 2004 feel like they could be applicable to this Artomatic. This year there are "…wallfuls of amateur watercolors, [and] yards of incompetent oil paintings…" Some walls still are "…hung pell-mell and cheek-by-jowl…" But is that essay applicable to the whole thing? No. Not even close. Gopnik's probably did more to improve the presentation of the artists participating than some might give it credit. Still, what makes any of it good?
Well, what's good is what's good. Take, for example, Drew Storm Graham's work. Would I want it for me? No. But my kid might like it. Why? It looks like something, it's made from a lot of well crafted parts, and irrespective of taste in subject matter, it's neat to look at. Plus, my kid is a toddler, so her tastes basically hinge on what is scary and what isn't. If I look at it with the hat of an art critic, I could easily be dismissive and hyperbolically state that it is the worst thing since the diamond-encrusted skull or Thomas Kinkade, and move on (it's not). But as a guy who descends from a long line of carpenters, I can't help but appreciate Graham's craft. His craft is great. It's what makes the object interesting to look at—its multiple layers and its attention to detail.
That's the point: A lot of what was really interesting at this year's Artomatic wasn't even by what art museums would classify as "artists." It was by people who make dresses, furniture, quilts, purses, and stuffed animals. It was as much fine craft as it was fine art, not too much stuff that fits in neither category. If that answer doesn't satisfy, then hit the cash bars on one of the floors when they open at 5 p.m. and order a bottle of Calm-Down Ale.
The downside is there was so much fun and interesting stuff that it was impossible to give it all some space. At the very least, we can close with another list.
Joanna Knox Yoder's wet plate collodion tin types, inspired by her family heritage, were paired in an 11th floor room with Carole Hollander photographs made with cremains of her father. Given the popularity of Instagram's simulations, it's refreshing to see the real deal achieved through chemistry. Besides, I don't think Instagram has a filter for images that simulate cremated remains (at least, not yet). For additional classic thrills, check out the Camera Obscura in the room next door.
With so many photographers in Artomatic, classical approaches were one way to gain attention. Obsession was another. Two more artists on the 11th floor overwhelmed the viewer with images that needed to be taken as a whole, not individually. John Kagia's "15 Miles of Vanity" recorsd hundreds of vanity plates, all captured within 15 miles of his home. Another take on home is the installation by Chris Speron, who—in the final moments before closing the deal on the sale of his deceased parents' home—photographed every inch of the house. The works are about the record of experience, not photography.
Watch out for the deer on the second floor. Actually, it's watching out for you: Seldom do deer get to shoot people. Steve Calamia, working under the moniker Metagrapher, created the CameraHead Deer. The feed for the video can be found in the work titled Voyeur Messiah, a television on a cross, found on the fourth floor. It's one of the few pieces in Artomatic that required a bit of hide and seek.
Graffiti is on many of the floors. In only one case does it really stick out—literally—which is quite a relief (that's the best pun you'll read all day). The artist, whose work goes unattributed, accomplished the work with foam and plaster bandage, slowing down the fast act of vandalism.
Well... it probably wasn't worth the effort. There were a few vacant room throughout the exhibit—like this string room—where visitors were invited to contribute. Usually the contributions were messy endeavors that were, at best, mildly intriguing for the chaos.
Broken old cameras end up displayed on a shelves because they're interesting and beautiful. Erika Rubel commits an act of sacriledge, turning the objet d'arte into a kitchy art object by taking other worn out tools and appliances and combining them into bugs. Their surreal design tickles the childhood imagination.
Jigsaw puzzles are prized for being difficult. Imagine if they weren't rectilinear. Thomas Spencer's organically shaped puzzles and nonobjective designs take the level of difficulty a step further.
Yumiko Blackwell's Radio Sebastian project was a tedious construction of little flowers pouring out of faucet, creating a poetic relationship between the industrial and the organic.
Kudos to Christine Allen. It's relatively easy for artists to come into the space and paint or draw on site. She weaves. Her loom was installed on the third floor. Just the object alone is worth examining (no touching). Seeing it in action, while not incredibly exciting, is still intriguing.
A twist on fiber art was crafted by M. Helene Baribeau. Her oversized gloves, woven from handmade and stained papers, were not only unexpected for their shift in scale, but surprising for the materials used.