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Defending Art-O-Matic

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Defending Art-O-Matic

artomatic I’ve been mulling Christ Schott’s Sept 3, 2004 “Show and Tell” column in the Washington City Paper titled The Artsy Thing That Swallowed DC on the subject of Art-O-Matic.

Two letters in the current issue (one by Judy Jashinsky and one by Philip Barlow) express their disagreement with Schott’s view of Art-O-Matic.

Let me start by saying that I am not very objective when it comes to Art-O-Matic. I think that it is the best thing that happens to the Washington visual art scene every couple of years; whatever is in second place is a distant second.

I am also rather sick and tired of the way (because of its size, energy and open attitude towards hanging any and all artwork as long as the artist is willing to help run the show) that it gets bashed by some in the lamestream media, the alternative media and even the BLOGosphere.

And much like the current CBS Rathergate, some of the past Art-O-Matic bashing didn’t really pass the journalistic ethics test.

And a WCP writer cruelly bashed the 2002 Art-O-Matic on the Kojo Nmandi Show. He did make it clear that he had not been to the exhibition yet (and thus pre-formed an opinion about the event based on the prior show); he then actually visited the show, which he then brutalized again on paper.

But the cake is taken when a Washington Post art critic wrote a dismissive small pre-opening review, again without actually ever setting foot in the place.

So, I think that it is not just the bad art that they dislike; I believe that they also resent the democraticization of the art process, the joyfulness and uniqueness of the event, the huge public success that it enjoys and the fact that it takes place in our own backyard.

And they miss the key ingredient that the event adds to our cultural tapestry: an incredible amount of artistic energy and a vast amount of attention to the visual arts. Anytime that you get over 1,000 artists to organize something of this magnitude, the footprint and its impact will be vast.

And, as far as I know, there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the nation, possibly the world. And here’s where the key to Art-O-Matic bashing lies: If the event took place in London, or New York, or Madrid, or LA or San Francisco or even Chicago, it would be lauded as a good thing for contemporary art and artists. I can see the headlines now: “Los Angeles’ Art-O-Matic is The Place to Discover the Next Generation of LA’s Artists.”

So what if it is growing? The 2002 version brought out 40,000 visitors; can we envision a future Art-O-Matic where it is an international open show, where artists from all over the world can participate and a quarter of a million visitors from all over the planet converge on DC to see the exhibition? I can.

So what if it is non juried? That way it allows people like me to go and see work by artists and artist-wannabes that otherwise I would never see because they are way off the radar of our curators and galleries. Granted, a lot of the work in past Art-O-Matics I have found amateurish, bland and forgettable. This puts Art-O-Matic in the same company as many recent shows in the Hirshhorn, the Corcoran and the last few Venice Biennales and Whitney Biennials.

And unlike those exhibitions, and as Barlow eloquently points out in his letter, many of today’s top DC artists have Art-O-Matic in their resume: Manon Cleary, Dan Steinhilber, Adam Bradley, Scott Hutchison, the Dumbacher brothers, Renee Stout, Tim Tate, Michael Clark, Allison Miner, Jordan Tierney, Richard Dana, Graham Cladwell,Judy Jashinsky, Richard Chartier, and many, many others.

I am looking forward to Art-O-Matic 2004, and 2006, and 2008…

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About Lenny Campello

  • Musing on art critics and ArtoMatic 2007, quoted from this post today over on my blog.