Artomatic @ Frederick

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Editorial Review

Artomatic sets up shop in Frederick

By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Oct. 21, 2011

For anyone who has ever been to Artomatic (one of a series of exhibitions that, since 1999, have been turning vacant buildings into temporary art galleries open to anyone who wants to show there), it will come as no surprise to learn that its current incarnation is very - how shall I put this? - Artomatic-y. For anyone who has not been to an Artomatic show, it might help to think of Artomatic @ Frederick, in downtown Frederick, as a giant flea market.

You will sift through a lot of busted toasters before you find that mint-condition Honus Wagner baseball card. But rest assured, such gems are out there. You just have to know what to look for among the nearly 300 artists packed into the old school administration building.

Do you like portraiture? Painter Phyllis Mayes's quirky self-portraits are bravely unflattering but hard to look away from. There's an entire wall of them here. Unlike many of the other artists, whose cluttered installations could use some pruning, all of Mayes's works hold your attention. Margaret Dowell is another strong figurative painter, with a series of pictures around the theme of addiction.

Photography makes a strong showing, particularly in the arresting ways in which a handful of artists have decided to hang their work. Mounted on glowing light boxes, Kayleigh Montgomery's square-ish, burnt-out landscapes have a moody, Hipstamatic vibe. And the black-and-white work of Jenny Wallace and Carlos Fyfe - almost hidden in the wings of the building's beat-up, third-floor stage - looks great against the cracked and grafittied walls. Wallace's mixed-media installation includes electric candles, an animal skull and other found objects.

But Frances Borchardt makes the most original presentation. As if making a mosaic, she breaks down each photographic print into dozens of tiny, collagelike parts, nesting the resulting miniature prints into empty printers' type cases. The effect is striking and kaleidoscopic.

New media holds its own against the show's more traditional art forms. Richard Schellenberg and Christine Hahn work in many media, including sculpture, painting, photography, installation and performance, but their digital videos catch the eye and intrigue the mind.

If there's a distinguishing feature of this Artomatic - something that says "Frederick" and not "Washington, D.C." - it may be the use of the found, or re-purposed, objects. Sculptor Brian Slagle's work is perhaps the best example. His walk-in, mixed-media sculpture is a cagelike structure containing a metallic pig and other junk-shop oddities. And Kristin Bohlander's use of sheep's wool - more sculptural than artsy-craftsy - is richly textural. Deborah Winram's assemblage of glass jars, each of which holds some visual curiosity, is a real treat, an apothecary for jaded eyeballs.

Is Artomatic @ Frederick for everyone? Maybe not. Some people hate yard sales. It's primarily for those who get a buzz picking through the ungainly, the pedestrian and the just plain bizarre - gay-themed "Star Trek" drawings, anyone? - in search of the occasionally wonderful.

The story behind the work

By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Oct 21, 2011

If there's one standout in Artomatic, it's the work of Alexandra Arzt.

Begun in 2009 as a thesis project at the Rhode Island School of Design, Arzt's photo series "Human-Animal" features striking images of people and their unorthodox animal companions: a skunk, an armadillo, a macaque and, in the case of Melanie Butera of Canal Fulton, Ohio, a deer named Dillie. Rescued as a fawn by Butera, a veterinarian, the once sickly ungulate now lives indoors and has the run of the house, with her own bed and a corner where she goes to the bathroom. She even plays with Butera's dog.

Arzt found most of her subjects through the Web. After convincing them that she's not, as she puts it, "some crazy PETA person," she would take a road trip - to Virginia, California, Tennessee and other places - to document the inter-species relationships. Arzt has endured a fox crawling on her head and a monkey nibbling on her fingers.

Raised on a farm in Frederick County, the Brooklyn-based photographer explains that she has always had a natural rapport with animals: cows, horses, chickens, even a pet iguana. There's no mockery or condescension - or misty-eyed romanticizing - in her art. Her pictures mean to question our sense of what the "normal" relationship between people and animals should be.

Want to see more of Dillie? Check out her webcam at www.ww.com/dilliecam.