Note From Jon

Adieu.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Refused: Return to Artomatic

My favorite art show has returned. For the first time, Artomatic is back after only one year (I’d previously seen it in 2002, 2004 and 2007). The schedule has been somewhat erratic since Artomatic is free and takes up a lot of space (1000+ artists tend to do that). Lots of free space is a tough order though, so it’s usually in a building being renovated or demolished (an old Hechinger’s, EPA building, DC Children’s Museum, Patent Trademark Offices). This year it’s the brand new Capital Plaza I… before the interior floors are drywalled and decorated. Capital Plaza I is located just a block from the New York Avenue metro and an easy bike ride from my office so while it can’t quite compare to last year’s Crystal City location, there’s certainly nothing to complain about.

I’ve been accused of enjoying traditions (I do) and with this being my fourth show and last year’s lessons fresh in my mind (and blog) I feel like I am close to perfecting my system for experiencing Artomatic. Here are the key components:

  • Bike to the show – Not so critical but part of the tradition and a good way to balance art and athletics (plus, unlike last year, they have bona fide bike parking)
  • Go on a weeknight – Sadly it’s closed Monday and Tuesday, so Wednesday is the golden time at Artomatic. It’s quiet and the artists aren’t usually around… which means Darren and I can discuss the work candidly (and it’s easier for me to bring you some photos)
  • Plan multiple trips – This is the key. The show lasts four weeks and I plan to go once a week.
  • Plan short trips – After a couple of hours I start to lose focus which makes it hard to…
  • Pay attention to the details – Some of my favorite work didn’t mean anything to me until I read a title or the artists statement

The Flight of the Conchords show (deservedly) won out over Opening Night at Artomatic this year so the first trip was the following Wednesday and starting from the top we hit floors 12 thru 10. Here’s what I found there…

I was a little concerned that after only one year much of the artwork would be the same work I saw last year (and likely the pieces that weren’t good enough to have been sold yet!). So far that hasn’t been the case. I saw several artists I recognized and all of their artwork was new to me this year. For example Emily Greene Liddle returned with a new entry in her food-on-a-hook temptation series (incidentally she’s also the most searched for artist on my blog… or at least the most searched for artist whose seekers end up at my blog!). This one is titled (or not): Untitled (Jalapeno). I don’t know what to make of that. It’s not really untitled because of the (Jalapeno)




But that does segue into a rant that Darren could really handle better than I. When Darren becomes our benevolent dictator (more on that in a future post) I expect a “Darren Decree” along the lines of “All artwork shall have a title”. Since I haven’t created art since high school I certainly won’t tell artists what to do but I will point out that quite often the title makes the piece for me. Here are two examples. Sanjay Suchak’s photo of the pigeons by the river took on a completely different tone after I read the title. I’d say that tone was ominous except that they are pigeons so whimsical is probably a better description of how I felt about… Battle of the Potomac. Likewise I took another look at Alexandra Zealand’s geometric relief when the title Addiction, Part 3 clued me in to the fact that it was composed entirely of used coffee filters (it’s much more obvious what they are from the shot I took than it was straight on).


Other pieces I liked because they triggered particular memories for me. Joseph Merchlinsky’s possibly political “Kill” actually didn’t do anything for me, but it did remind me of the much subtler work I mentioned last year as my favorite piece from the 2004 show where the artist (who I'm happy to have now found out was also Joseph Merchlinsky!) used “I Voted” images in Red, White, and Blue and Green, Black, and Red to create the vague silhouette of the infamous hooded Abu Ghirab prisoner. And taking me even farther back in time was Tim Grant’s Hording Beanie Babies. For some inexplicable reason I am about to admit that a decade ago my girlfriend at the time and I actually enjoyed driving around and collecting them. In fact if I remember correctly (and I hope I don’t) that Stegosaurus and Inky the Octopus were actually fairly valuable. To this day I believe there is a trash bag full of them somewhere in my parent’s basement… and now if Tim’s work sells for $900 I may have just found out how they can actually have some value again! In case I still had you fooled into thinking I had good taste, I imagine that façade has been completely demolished now so let’s move on…


Yes, let’s shift the focus to Darren… who apparently had a dream about Fidel Castro shortly before this trip to Artomatic. Who dreams about Fidel? Actually not only was Fidel in the dream… he was Darren’s great uncle! Anyway he was telling us the story of his dream just before we came across some of his comrades. He’s even got the right color scheme going, almost like he planned it… hmmm perhaps he really is plotting a socialist revolution to become our benevolent dictator!


One goal of the trip was to find some artwork that we could put up over our mantle which has now been blank (well except for a wreath around Christmas) for over four years (and we’ll consequently become the only straight men to ever purchase artwork for their mantle). We’ll keep looking through the rest of the floors but we definitely found a strong candidate. Tiny Ghosts produces a series of works that consist of two framed photos with a handwritten story beneath them. As you can see, the text usually contains an unexpected twist beneath the second photo. Tiny Ghosts has a coffee table book of the first 100 pieces which we’ll buy and probably select three of our favorites ($60 a piece framed) to hang over the mantle.


Sometimes even a good title isn’t enough for unsophisticated art viewers like myself, and that’s why I love the Artist’s Statements at Artomatic. For example, I learned that Brian Lusher had taken a mass produced bust of Jesus (shown unpainted at the top) and shown the wide range of expressions that can be painted on. He also had an interesting write-up on how his intention wasn’t to blasphemously (to some) portray Jesus as a drag queen, but instead to show the idea that Jesus is in everyone (including drag queens). Without the artist statement and blank bust I doubt I would have even realized what was beneath the makeup. Chris Combs (or as I remember him, Chris Cones) had a series of seemingly subjectless photographs where even titles didn’t help me, until I read his artist statement which begins with him saying how he keeps seeing cones everywhere. I went back and looked over his photos again and it all clicked. Each photo contained an orange traffic cone somewhere and the title referred to the cone, as seen in my favorite one Lurking.

And in the case of Tracy Lee’s Refused: Return to Sender the art basically was the artist’s statement. Darren and I both nearly skipped right past the exhibit that seemed to contain nothing but pages of slides hung from the wall and a small collage of family photos. There wasn’t much there visually to be called art and I can’t really think of any other art venues that would have shown the “work”, but that is the beauty of the unjuried nature of Artomatic. As Darren and I walked away Sara had taken the time to read the artist’s statement, and she called us back to read it. I nearly missed my favorite piece of the day, and also the most thought provoking. Read the statement, then look at the collage titled 80 Proof Childhood (doesn’t everyone drink beer for breakfast?) and the return letter which gave the exhibit its name. Powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing Tracy.

Finally, the peep-o-ramas returned for the second time and there are plenty of fun ones. My favorite this year (though it makes me sad) is ‘The Apeepening’ Leaves Hain’s Point. And that’s what I’ve got so far, but I will soon Return to Artomatic…

9 comments:

Chris Combs said...

Hey, thanks for writing. It's always great fun to see how, or if, people react to the private obsessions we've thrown on the wall.

I'm trying to talk Darren into selling prints!

Jon said...

Thanks for the feedback Chris, it's always exciting to hear back from someone whose work I am writing about (as long as I haven't offended them!)

tiny ghosts said...

Thanks for being awesome and mentioning tiny ghosts in your blog.

Jon said...

Thanks! That's good for a discount on the pieces I buy right :-p

Alex Zealand said...

I'm delighted that you mentioned my piece - and I agree, titles are important. They give you context.

Joseph Merchlinsky said...

You are right, it was my piece in the 2004 show. I never had any feedback on it, so I am surprised that someone still remembers it. And heartened that it was your favorite. This year I revisited some aspects of that piece with which I wasn't satisfied. Well, I'm still not completely satisfied, so I'll keep plugging away...

Jon said...

Thank you, I appreciate the feedback too and I'm so happy to finally know the artist of my favorite piece from the 2004 show (Joseph, I've updated the credit on my blog post from last year as well now - http://notetojon.blogspot.com/2008/05/refused-return-to-artomatic.html )

Jon said...

Sorry wrong link: http://notetojon.blogspot.com/2007/05/artomatic-2007.html

Alexandra said...

Great post, Jon! I love all the comments from the artists. Thanks also for pointing out Tiny Ghosts...I love the work and can't wait to see it up on your mantel (if indeed it happens).