A compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mel in a Handbasket

Mel Gibson Folk Art
Originally uploaded by Extreme Craft.
This weekend, I attended Atlanta's annual "FolkFest". It's becoming an annual act of self-flaggelation where I wade through a sea of insufferable art in quest of the few treasures that are on view. It was interesting to watch the resale dealers trying to snatch up undervalued pieces to sell later at higher prices. Just like shopping at Whole Foods, in folk art, the story is everything. If you can tell your public that a piece of art was made by a poor illiterate Alabaman, you'll do well. If that illiterate Alabaman happened to be blind, so much the better. Say that blind illiterate Alabaman happened to be trapped at the bottom of a well, making art with his own feces....well that'd be a license to print money.

One notable quality that folk artists all seem to share is opportunism. You can't blame artists for knowing where their bread is buttered--it's the reason there are a bazillion photographers out there making money from taking pictures of puppies and kitties, but sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. Above is a picture of a Mel Gibson piece on an old board that didn't even have time for the varnish to dry before it was whisked off to FolkFest. By the end of the show, though, it hadn't sold, and the $450 price tag was thoughtfully lowered to $150. I guess the artist figured that by the time next year's show rolled around, it would be worthless.

There is plenty of money to be made by memorializing people and events. When buying art, people tend to stay within their comfort zones and buy art that has a connection with something else they like. Hell, I'll cop to buying a portrait of Luther Vandross by an amazing autistic artist shortly after Luther's death. At FolkFest, I saw pieces commemorating such incongruous figures as bass player Jaco Pastorius and the mauling of Roy from Siegfred and Roy. If I had piles of cash, I would've bought the Roy piece in a heartbeat. I'm going to try to find a picture of it to post here, in fact.

The most striking thing at FolkFest is that commerce is never far from the viewer's mind. For an event that holds "authenticity" as its core belief, it immediately becomes apparent that credibility and authenticity are such ephemeral subjects that it's impossible to sort things out. Therein lies the fun, though. I'll keep coming back to FolkFest because it makes me think....I just wish a few more people buying crayon Elvis portraits would wrestle with the demons that I do when they whip out their wallet. After all, you can't say "folk" without saying "faux" at the same time.


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