For the month of November,the abandoned Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington,D.C.,down by the waterfront has been turned from a skeleton of bare offices to a living body of colorful contemporary art and music.
The temporary gallery features the work of local artists by an organization called Art-O-Matic,which is in its third session hosting artwork that is both driven by expression and persuasion.
The informal showrooms consist of two floors of vibrant paintings,eccentric photography,inventive sculptures and chaotic collages,avant garde films,live bands and DJs spinning on turntables.
Also included is a creative cluster of interactive exhibits such as a video story teller that allows the spectator to record a brief segment of an on-going improv story and a simulated “waiting room,” that records the viewer on monitors so to mock the eye-in-the-sky presence felt in government buildings,banks and corporations.
Art-O-Matic acquired its title from the first opening when it was held in a deserted laundromat,making the reference to the automatic spin cycle washing machines.
Art-O-Matic has been turning abandoned buildings into housing for art exhibits since its debut in 1999.
The organization has been encouraging local artists to display their talent in hopes of creating a community of artists outside that of the popular accepted names in the D.C. art scene backed by museums and art critics.
“I love the art here because you don't see it in the city galleries,” said Trinka,47,an artist whose work is on display in the main gallery. “Some of it's good,some of it is bad,but that's what I like,the idea that we can show the community a variety of art,not just what is declared “in.”
Each volunteer pays a flat fee of $40 and contributes 15 hours of their time hosting,navigation,cleaning and taking donations.
The organization has had 350 contributing artists when it started and has since grown double that in 2000,drawing 665 artists and 200 performers. Since that time,attendance in 1999 was estimated at 20,000 and has exploded to 50,000 attending in 2000.
This year,the abandoned EPA building will host a two-floor gallery,a bar for visitors to enjoy the artwork while sipping wine and munching on pretzels. Local musicians also trying to gain notoriety will provide music for ambience.
Local painter Phillip Pradier,50,who has been volunteering for the past three functions,explains the importance for D.C. to be seen as a city flourishing in its art scene. “People look at D.C. and think politics and conservatism and not so much of art past the Smithsonian and monuments,” said Pradier. “There is an incubator going on here and Art-O-Matic helps in diluting that impression.”
Each room that was formerly an office has been transformed into a private showroom for artists. The artwork is exhibited in several different manners,suggesting the authenticity and the amateurism of the artist with some work elegantly framed and others simply thumbtacked to the walls.
“There's bad presentation and beautiful presentation but what is great about Art-O-Matic is that the presentation isn't what's important but rather the artwork itself,” said Trinka. “Some of the artists here are as young as 16 and they may not have the best presentation and their art may not even be that good,but the passion is extraordinary and the community needs to see that.”
Some of the rooms are occupied with work of veteran Art-O-Matic volunteers while other rooms contain work from newcomers like Suzanne Ioannides who has had work displayed in museums in the states and overseas.
“This is my first time and I enjoy meeting the other artists and collaborating,” said Ioannides. “With this,everyone is involved,not just artists but the city and you can view many things,not just one aspect or style of art.”
Ioannides,who soon will be showing her sculpting at a New York exhibit which cost an average $6,000 for entry fee per artist,is pleased with the chance she has had to show her work at Art-O-Matic.
“You can sell anything you want and you don't have to pay a commission to the gallery as you would do in museums,” said Ioannides.
With continuing aid from the Cultural Development Corporation and other sponsors,Art-O-Matic hopes to build their attendance in the continuing years and create a community for D.C.'s amateur artists as well as to expose the culture of less popular art.