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Monday, January 7, 2008

Get your fresh art!

(Photo courtesy Felicia Feaster)

(The $7 painting I let my child buy, but that I had to wait in line with, fearful someone I knew would see me.)

While Atlanta’s art elite head to prestige art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach, I experienced my own impoverished, OTP version of an art-buying feeding frenzy over the weekend. My husband saw an ad on TV for a “Starving Artist” sale at a local Embassy Suites. Being lovers of kitsch and weekend adventures involving hotel conference rooms, we were compelled to check it out.

On a desolate stretch of access road close to the airport, the “Starving Artist” sale unfolded in a packed room stinking of fresh paint off the atrium. I wasn’t convinced the paint funk was actually emitted by the canvases. I wondered if the organizers spritzed the room with eau d’acrylic to get buyers all manic, like some barfly pickup artist slapping his jowls with Old Spice.

The work was amateurish, but not as kitschy as I had hoped. My husband wanted something from the matador school of bad art. I am becoming fairly ambivalent about buying kitsch these days. After a lifetime of paint-by-numbers and tchotchke collecting, I’ve begun to wean myself off of kitsch-as-decor. My living room was beginning to look like the set piece for “Roseanne.”

But, alas, there was not a matador or fuzzy kitty in sight. Instead, there was a more middlebrow, less-fun brand of bad taste on display: some Thomas Kinkade-style winter scenes and flower-draped Kozy Kottages. The French street scenes cracked me up the most, with the artists trying to cram words like “Boulangerie” onto shop signage, and clearly running out of space somewhere around the “g.”

An Atlanta artist once observed to me that there are scads of art buyers in this city who love images of wine: wine bottles, wine glasses. Ever since that observation was made, I noticed the prevalence of this still-life subgenre, and frankly, it disturbs me. Someone should do a series of low-life still-life paintings of meth labs and heroin cookery arranged in a beam of sunlight, perhaps a cluster of grapes or maybe Cheetos illuminated at the margins.

There was a woman buying a huge painting of wine bottles. I heard her tell the woman in front of her it was for her dining room. To me, it said “bathroom,” but the beauty of art is its subjectivity. My husband recounted how, mesmerized by the extended horizontal plane of the canvas, the artist had failed to allow himself enough head room, and so had to paint all the bottles to Hervé Villechaize scale, short and squat to make them fit.

He listened to one dad anxiously dangling art over his little daughter’s head like a biscuit for a schnauzer:

“You want some art? You want some art?”

Daddy is flush: Pick yourself out something nice under $19.

Another woman approaching the checkout asked of her $49, sofa-sized canvas if the frame was included. An epic wall-hugger “freshly” painted for under $50 and she wants a frame to boot? What do you think this is, lady, Ikea?

I got the impression these weren’t people who might amble into Buckhead anytime to see what Fay Gold was up to. If they did accidentally stumble into a contemporary art gallery, they’d probably swallow their tongues at works beginning in the Pottery Barn dining room-set range. Frame NOT included.

I plan on looking more deeply into the world of hotel art sales in the future, so if anyone has any stories or experience with this subculture, bring ’em on.

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