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Earlier this week, DCist reported that Artomatic organizers have been scouting Hine Junior High School at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE as a possible location for the gargantuan, uncurated exhibition this fall. Rebecca Stone Gordon, a member of the board of directors for AoM, partially squashed the rumor in the comments section: In all likelihood, she wrote, the next Artomatic won’t happen until 2011.
Chatting with Arts Desk today, she gave a few reasons: Even after a building is found, it takes months to nail down lease agreements and relaunch the website, and for artists to complete the registration process. So far, no building has been found, though several are under review, including Hine.
Currently, Artomatic’s board is dealing with what could be seen as identity issues. The show started as a smaller cluster of artists exhibiting in a laundromat in 1999, and in the 10 years since it has mushroomed into a 501(c)(3) juggernaut of 1000 artists exhibiting in a massive space. The show has moved from a biennial to an annual, and in recent years has become a sophisticated pop-up operation—-even as the people who help it run electricity, build partitions, and keep the show running are unpaid.
Because of Artomatic’s increasingly elaborate needs, the cost for participation has gone up, moving the event out of reach for some participants, a fact Gordon says she laments. Artomatic won’t be able to reduce prices anytime in the future, but its board is hoping to keep them at current levels. That’s why a place like Hine is of interest: The space will have fewer associated costs because the electricity is wired, there are ready-made places to hang work, and the plumbing offers few mysteries.
So, should we breathe a sigh of relief, or of disappointment? It’s easy to unload on the copious amounts of schlock Artomatic exhibits each year. Since Duchamp exhibited a urinal in 1917, the question of what constitutes worthwhile art at an uncurated, come-one-come-all exhibition gives critics plenty to ponder, and Artomatic is no exception.
Gordon has a special place in her heart for such criticism. “It means that we have so engaged them that we have done something right,” she says. “We have caused them to expend a lot of energy thinking about this art.” She recalls fondly the night in 2004 when people came in droves, in heavy rain, to see the exhibition following a disparaging critique by Blake Gopnik.
To declare Artomatic a sprawling display of schlock that has all the personality of a dormitory (minus the scent of incense and the aggravation of sexile) is easy. On the other hand, what a sprawling display of schlock! The fabulous thing about Artomatic is this: It creates a community in which hundreds of people, trained and untrained artists alike, work together. Given Mera Rubell‘s observation that artists in D.C. are isolated, any sort of community-minded art show, frenzied or otherwise, is welcome.
If it takes until 2011, that’s OK. For the sake of volunteers, a biennial schedule may be a good thing. As for audiences: We can wait a little longer to cheer and jeer.
Artomatic 2009, courtesy Vincent Gallegos