- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

The offerings of the 700-plus visual artists, photographers and filmmakers participating in Art-O-Matic 2002 range from good to downright bad. This third Art-O-Matic, located in the 100,000-square-foot premises of the former Environmental Protection Agency offices (above the Waterfront-SEU Metro station) is another mammoth effort by local artists to create a grass-roots driven, nonjuried, multimedia arts event.
The artists who created the first Art-O-Matic in 1999 wanted to create an alternative to showing in Washington's commercial galleries. They found what was then the perfect space in the abandoned Manhattan Laundry building on Florida Avenue NW, and they created one of the first nonjuried, volunteer-organized, multimedia arts events in the city's history. The group continued with the hugely successful Art-O-Matic 2000 in the former Hechinger's Building in Tenleytown.
This year, Kaempfer Co. and Forest City Washington, developers of the EPA site, donated the space and $20,000 toward operating costs. The nonprofit Cultural Development Corp. handled the event's legal and financial aspects. Works in the exhibit are for sale.
The event has retained its nonjuried process, but several artists and artist groups stand out.
Members of MeltDown, the extraordinarily successful glass program at the Millennium Arts Center, provide some of the best pieces in the show. They include blown glass specialist and program founder-director Tim Tate; neon glass artist Marty King; cast glass sculptor Diane Cabe; Dutch-born Erwin Timmers, who uses cast and found glass with reclaimed objects for big wall assemblages; and Syl Mathis, who makes gentle kyaks of cast glass.
Other better-known artists include Patricia Buck and Barbara Kerne, who explore the potency of artistic and personal memories. Ms. Kerne evoked the scattering of her father's cremated ashes in her room-size installation, "Journey to Immortality." Ms. Buck covered the walls near the building's bar area with witty evocations of old master prints. Alice Davidson Sims, a Takoma Park, Md., folk artist, created the striking sculpture group of animals and children in "Guardians for the Children." Judy Jashinsky, known for her Renaissance female artist "Artemesia Gentileschi" series, pictured an Indian corn ceremony in her installation "Four Directions."
Unfortunately, the dehumanized space, gray walls and poor lighting of this year's event defeat much of the art, even the better art.
The former EPA quarters are filled with tiny offices, windowless rooms and long, office-gray corridors. Even Art-O-Matic 2000 Steering Committee member and MeltDown director Tim Tate says it is "the most depressing space" he has ever experienced. (Surprisingly enough, the late Washington architect Chlothiel Smith designed the building. She created many award-winning structures in the 1960s, especially in Southwest. This was not one of them.)
The organizers tried to humanize the space by giving different areas the names of local subway stations. They also urged artists to paint their areas and provide good lighting. Unfortunately, too few acted on these suggestions.
The cubicles and offices seem made for the amateurish nudes, landscapes and still lifes that make up much of the exhibit. These works are even worse than those of student art exhibits. Other artists made feeble attempts at woven fiber macrame.
The MeltDown artists who occupy one of the first exhibit areas somehow manage to overcome the shortcomings of their surroundings.
Mr. Timmers used his innovative architectural talents to bathe the gallery in light. Mr. Tate, who began glassmaking at the National Park Service's Glen Echo Park, shows the "Sacred Heart of Resurrection." The artist created a dark red phoenix rising as if from the ashes from a red-orange flame set atop a milk-white "heart." He "lined it" with simulated burgundy-red veining. (The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum owns the companion piece, "Sacred Heart of Healing.")
Mr. Tate, who trained at the Penland School of Crafts (Asheville, N.C.), Pilchuck Glass School (Seattle, Wash.) and the Corning Studio School (Corning, N.Y.), says the works commemorate his mother's recent death.
"She was always there when I felt wounded, and the hearts symbolize her always supportive empathy," he says.
Visitors then pass through one of the few large-scale exhibition spaces to enter the fantasy world of Ms. Buck. Her large-scale, computer-generated "Genetics/Memetics" prints on vellum cover several of the walls. The artist deconstructs old master prints by scattering prints by Albrecht Durer with those from other centuries. The installation comprises some of the best work in the show. It doesn't hurt that the room also includes Art-O-Matic's bar area.
Ms. Kerne also commemorated the death of a parent, her 96-year-old father, with a tender, room-size installation. The artist says it is "a space for people to remember" not only her father's passing but the death of their own relatives.
Ms. Kerne remembers that her father wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in back yard of the family's Adams Morgan house. Instead, she chose a site in nearby Rock Creek Park where they often worked together.
There is a wall of digitally reproduced photos made from old family pictures and the menu from her parents' wedding reception. Another wall holds a linden tree, once the oldest in Montgomery County, that stood near her father's last home. The artist also enshrined the place in the creek where they threw the ashes by suspending dried vines from the site on a section of the ceiling.
Art-O-Matic 2002 is a place to be discovered, and several artists who are new on the scene are also included.
Jordan Tierney and Marcia Hall filled a specially lighted room with a glass water jug and small glass carafes set on the floor. Pat Goslee exhibits small, organic wax-based "encaustic" paintings. Brenda Belfield paints geometrically constructed works with an effective matte black.
Jeff Zimmer shows five, vertically hung, etched-and-enameled glass panels of spooky-looking heads and figures from "Hamlet." Mr. Zimmer says his work closely relates to theater. This piece was inspired by the Synetic Theater's production of the Shakespeare classic.
Martha Olsson, whose powerful work should garner more attention everywhere, says that the small "Deposition From the Cross" by Bachiaca in Florence's Uffizi Gallery inspired her much larger "Deposition." She slashes violent, protruding areas of oil pigment that make the emotional work seem to move.
Bethesda artist Ellyn Weiss hung three large oil pastels on a big wall that provide one of the few areas of brilliant color in the exhibit.
Art-O-Matic 2002 is worth a visit for a few of the artists displaying their work. Perhaps the organizers will learn that exhibit space even if it is free can seriously compromise the quality of the exhibit they are trying to create.

WHAT: Art-O-Matic 2002
WHERE: Waterfront (formerly the Waterside Mall), 401 M St. SW
WHEN: Noon to midnight, Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 10 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 30
TICKETS: Free
PHONE: 202/314-0169

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