Isn't it funny how life seems to arrange itself thematically? About this time last year, I did a series of posts about Folk Art(with a capital "F", mind you). It's that time of year again, and Folk Fest is rolling into Atlanta this weekend. FolkFest is sponsored by some ginormous Folk Art auction house, and it draws many of the top folk artists, galleries, and collectors in the country to a god-forsaken convention center in the middle of nowheresville, North Atlanta. There are some amazing artists who are represented, including Danny "Bucketman" Hoskinson, blue-chip (read: long-dead) artists like Bill Traylor, and oddballs like Steven Keane. Sean Samoheyl, who I wrote about last year, will also be exhibiting again.
For every amazing artist with a burning passion to express themselves, viewers have to wade through a dozen rich suburban ladies who feel entitled to show their "self-taught" paintings of martini glasses, Elvis, and high-heeled shoes. Still, one never knows who one is going to bump into. last year's Fest included the geniuses behind the PBS series "Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations".
Last night, I attended a lecture unrelated to FolkFest at Spalding Nix Fine Art here in Atlanta. The lecture was by Andrew Dietz, author of the amazing book "The Last Folk Hero", which profiles self-taught African-American artists Lonnie Bradley Holley and Thornton Dial, along with Bill Arnett, the larger-than-life (read: alleged scumbag) Atlanta collector who long ago mastered the fine art of blurring the lines between championing and exploiting artists. Arnett also championed the quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama, bringing them fame, art world respect, and mad money. Although he owns a 60,000 square foot warehouse stuffed with art he obtained directly from the artists for rock-bottom prices, he claims to be misunderstood and impoverished. Arnett has popularized the art of true visionary geniuses, but does so by putting the artists under contract to him, buying up vast amounts of their work, and trickling it out to collectors gradually, letting prices rise astronomically.
Dietz' book is an even-handed portrayal of Arnett's triumphs and follies and an examination of the gray area surrounding the exploitation of Folk Artists. For the record, Dietz is an amazing lecturer. If you have a chance to hear him speak, jump at the chance. His book brings his subjects to life, and his lectures even more so. Since the book was published Dietz has become enemy #1 on Arnett's (long) shitlist. If you're interested in Folk Art, social issues, or the machinations of the art world in general, find this book and devour it. Andrew Dietz will also be haunting FolkFest (rolling with the Who-Ha Da-da crew, so I'm told), so keep your eyes out for him. He promises that he is working on a new art movement, which will be revealed in the coming weeks. If it's at all extreme or crafty, you'll be hearing about it in these (virtual) pages.