It’s Artomatic time, when artists emerge from their studios to show their work, perform, and party. If this year’s Artomatic is like the others, the critics will inevitably come calling, too.

In 2002, Tyler Green called the still hyphenated Art-O-Matic “an exhausting abomination.” That same year, Washington City Paper’s Glenn Dixon called it “a great agglomeration of rubbish.” Ouch.

And yet, every year, the artists and their allies have fought back, dashing off sharp-tongued letters to the editor and carefully crafted manifestoes celebrating the event.

In 2004, blogger Lenny Campello wrote that he was “sick and tired” of Art-O-Matic being “bashed by some in the lamestream media, the alternative media and even the BLOGosphere.” Judy Jashinsky said Art-O-Matic deserved better than “the City Paper’s back-of the-hand swipe.”

But this year, D.C.’s arts advocates might be taking another tack. Campello, who writes the widely-read Mid Atlantic Art News says he’s heard rumors that there’s more than the usual chicanery afoot over at the old U.S. Patent and Trademark Building in Crystal City.

A reader who did not reveal his or her identity wrote in an e-mail to Campello:

Lenny, This may be fun for your blog: I heard that some art collectors in DC have conspired to have a bit of fun with art critics and have put together pieces from their collections from 3 famous artists in AOM and the artwork is under a fictitious name and it will be there to see if anyone recognizes who the artists are and to see if the public or the art critics recognize work by famous artists who also are in some museums in DC and Baltimore (NGA, BMA and Hirshorn), the work will be at AOM under a local artists name. Your the AOM champion, so maybe you can find out if is true or talk about it in the blog or whatever. A reader

Artomatic President Sondra Arkin says she can neither confirm nor deny the rumor. “We have no way of verifying anyone’s identity.” After all, artists sign up online and pay online, she says, “so we have no way of knowing whether anything like this has happened.”