Last weekend I went to the ‘Virtu’ Art Fair in Westerly, RI, held on the lovely grounds of Wilcox Park. It’s not the sort of art fair that gets into magazines or has long stories blogged about it; this is a pleasant, suburban fair of moderately-priced works, mostly forgettable, and, so far as fine art goes, mostly reliant on landscape painting and photography. There were lots of crafts there as well – woodworkers, hand-made soaps, some glass – but those are out of my bailiwick. I thought I’d write about what I did see, though there are few photos – most artists had signs saying “No Photos Please,” and for the most part I was only too happy to comply.
There were yarn bombed trees around the fair, and those could be photographed.
Yarnbombing is the most benign of subversive art activities. It’s subversive only in that it is sometimes done without permission. Here it was not only sanctioned, you could get a map showing which trees had been bombed and who bombed them. Every street art form becomes part of the mainstream eventually, and a family-friendly craft like yarnbombing has already passed on.
If there must be bombs, let them be yarnbombs.
A few impressions:
One artist who, I will not name, was doing himself no favors by working on multiple copies of the same painting in the middle of his booth; despite Andy Warhol, no one is impressed by art that seems to be made factory-style.
The moody, largely monochrome photos of Bruce Lippincott were among the highlights of the fair, a nice contrast to the colorful paintings in other booths.
Greg Stones’ simple, clever cartoons, which have been issued in several volumes by Chronicle Books (shown above), made a nice change. No other booth had so much laughter in it.
I was curious about the custom guitars from Artistic Acoustics, which took standard guitar necks and fitted them to decidedly non standard soundboxes – whether it be a metal tin, a wood cigar box, or an assemblage including a automobile hubcap. They looked very interesting, but were acoustically questionable. A shame they don’t have a website.
It would be too easy for an art critic to sneer at a small fair like this, a place for decorating beach houses or suburban ranch homes. A safe place, in the pejorative sense of “safe.” Strangely, some of these responses seem concerned, as though safe art were somehow a danger to the ultra-sophisticated. Believe it or not, not all art has to challenge orthodoxies or chase that elusive thing called “the cutting edge.” Art can be inspired by the sheer beauty of the natural world, although centuries of artists have already mined that vein. There’s room for art that is simply pretty to look at. I have forgotten some of the art I saw there, and will likely forget most of it before long. Okay. This was a fair in a park, not the Museum of Modern Art.
I feel it’s important to review something like this. There is a danger of becoming a “one-percenter” of the art world, only focussing on the upper-upper crust, sneering at small-time art as something for the poor or uneducated. That’s a terrible attitude, and one that every critic ought to break at least once a year. Importance in a historical sense has its place, but perspective is important. If you don’t look at everything, you get a skewed view of how things are. It’s educational, and a critic’s job is to pass that education on to others. The teacher must learn before (s)he can teach.