Monday, February 22, 2010

A Weekend of Fine Art: Napa Style

Exhibition Title: Napa Valley Mustard Festival
Location: Napa Valley, CA
Date: January 30 - March 27, 2010

As a rather unorthodox way of finding art, I visited The Napa Valley Mustard Festival. The festival was created to secure year-round travel and tourism to Napa Valley during the winter months of January, February, and March enabling them to support year round employment in the area as well as an international prosperity. During the Weekend of Fine Art (as described by their website), California artists “are invited to enter traditional, contemporary, impressionist, and abstract, flat, and three-dimensional works of art in the annual…Visual Art Competition." The artists kept in tune with the theme of the festival supporting the landscape, food, wine, and culture.

Official poster by Thomas Monaghan

I was invited to attend by one of the participants. She had the fortune of winning third place in one of the categories. Gale S. McKee is a born and raised San Francisco artist. Presently, she is working with Pottery Barn creating prototypes of fabric ornaments and stuffed animals for the Christmas season. She also expressed her desires to experiment with mixed media and is currently working on glass, metal, light and paint projects. During the opening of the actual Mustard Festival on January 30th, the sale of the art works entered into the competition began. As a result, the exhibition was incomplete since buyers had already taken a number of works.

I was left impressed by the organization of the show. The curators of the exhibit and the competition kept a detailed folder of the submissions, price, buyer, and location of all the works. From what I did see in the exhibit, the pieces ranged in style and brought up a rather curious observation. As accomplished artists enter the competition, it is rather alarming the type of work portrayed. I had fully expected the competition would bring submissions of the artist’s own theme yet they produced art in spirit of the fundraiser. These pieces were sold at a range of about $900 to $4000. Unfortunately, what I saw was kitsch. It brings to mind Clement Greenberg’s Avant-Garde and Kitsch. At what point does art stop being fine art? These pieces were quite clearly made for commercial purposes and, in my opinion, by no means represent these artist’s talents. The aspect of fundraising in this festival brought out this idea fully.

As another perspective, the fact that these pieces are sold at high prices, does it confuse the idea of fine art amongst the general public? I do not consider myself an artist and have no formal art education, but even I was concerned by the supposed value of these pieces both artistically and monetarily. The general public misinterprets the development of art when they receive or view art that is meant for commercial “old” art as opposed to artist innovation. The fundraising is the purpose of this kitsch art so does that entail that fundraising should not exhibit art? Is the real problem the fundraiser or the theme? This question I feel I can answer. A fundraiser, to provide a more accurate art representation, should not expect artists to provide artwork they would not normally produce. In other words, the artists should submit work of their own caliber for proper evaluation of the general public.

I do not mean to knock the purpose of the festival and fundraiser nor the goodwill of the artists. I do, however, show a level concern over the concept of art amongst people. Art should be more than just pretty and speak about the artist, not a fundraiser. My last question that attending this exhibition brought to me was, when did landscape stop being considered art?


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