Stella Cretek

Fest me

By - May 28th, 2008 02:52 pm
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Fest Me

Milwaukee is in the grips of “Festivalism,” a word coined by Peter Schjeldahl (art critic for the New Yorker magazine) after surviving the Venice Biennale in 1999. “The drill is ambulatory consumption,” he quips, “a little of this, a little of that.” As I write, Memorial Day weekend’s Kite Fest unfolds below my balcony, and we’re off and running in the art fair race, where the most asked question is, “Where are the restrooms?” The Milwaukee International Art Fair has come and gone in a bowling alley event; it wasn’t on the lake, though it did feature water spouting from a can encased in plexiglass fronting the General Store booth.

Of course Milwaukee isn’t Venice, but we do have Lake Michigan and organizers of art fairs get as close to it as possible (the most notable being the Lakefront Festival of the Arts), or if that’s not feasible, they hug as many inland lakes as possible. The media publishes long lists of where to go and what to peruse (Google on) though one needn’t travel far from one’s neighborhood these days because art fairs are everywhere, some resembling rummage sales for the culturally challenged. It’s almost required that shoppers come home with something, and it might even be a decent piece of art. In the corner of my office is a wooden sculpture purchased twenty years ago at the aforementioned Lakefront Festival of the Arts. It’s a female figure resembling a Marisol sculpture. It has multiple drawers and the head lifts off to reveal a secret chamber. I’m giving it to my grandson who is busy re-decorating his bedroom in “Indiana Jones” style. She was with me when I lived out in the country and the day my small house caught fire, I fled with one thing … her. When the firemen arrived, she greeted them on my front lawn.

The first painting I ever purchased (in the late ‘60s) came from an art fair in Oconomowoc, and I think I may have bought it because the artist was lolling around the grounds in a leopard-skin bikini, accompanied by an exotic dog. It’s was a pretty bad painting and eventually I donated it to an auction even though it matched the couch in my suburban tri-level.

Actually, art fairs aren’t a terrible way to start collecting stuff, because there’s plenty to choose from. The things you bring home may eventually teach you a thing or two, and at the very least you can say years down the line, “I bought that at an art fair years ago.” They become grist for your memory mill, but it’s doubtful they’ll teach you what art is. That takes years, and art fair viewers don’t have time. A few hours outing on a sunny day is really what they’re about, so go ahead, have some fun. This isn’t to say that whopper fairs like the Venice Biennale will teach you what art is either. I’ve never attended an uber-whopper, but I imagine they are akin to carnivals, with hawkers hawking. “Four balls for a quarter and maybe you’ll win a prize.” At the Biennale in Venice, even that could be fun, especially if you escape to look at the great stuff gracing the rest of Venice.

The 2008 Wisconsin Art & Craft Fair directory (published by the Wisconsin Arts Board) lists 200. Get a move on.

Categories: Dem Bones

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