Will the Real Artist Please Stand Up!

Brian J. Sullivan

I have experienced an innovative concept to help improve the quality of art at the art fairs and elevate the visibility of art fairs. Call it sensationalism if you will; I call it progress.

If memory serves me correctly, an old 60s TV show called "To Tell the Truth" featured three or four contestants who tried to stump the guest "star." The guest "stars" could ask any questions they wanted to of any contestant. The contestants had to answer the questions truthfully. At the end of the show, the guest "star" had to guess which contestant worked in the occupation that was listed at the beginning of the show. The signature phrase at the end of each show was: "Will the real ______ please stand up!" While somewhat entertaining and very dated, I think there is room in the art fair circuit for such a remake combined with elements of reality TV.

This new style of art fair has already hit the West Coast and is slowly making its way across the nation. The art fair is usually held in a large stadium with a grass infield and stands all around the perimeter. The art fair is a three-day event. On the first day the stadium is open, and anyone who wants to exhibit is allowed to set up. Setup begins at 6:30am and ends at 2:00pm. Each contestant is given a 10 foot by 10 foot area in which to set up his or her tent. There are no double or triple spaces allowed. Each contestant can decorate and hang any kind of fine art they want as long as it is done by the artist and is "real art." At 2:00 pm a whistle is sounded and three judges with clipboards emerge from the dugout and begin to make their rounds. They can ask any contestant any questions, i.e., how they make their work, any techniques they may employ, who their artistic influences are, how many employees they have, if they buy any pre-made products, what their studio is like, any galleries they have shown in, etc., etc., etc. The contestants would be required to answer all questions truthfully. Jury and booth fees are comparable to other large art fairs.

The infield is closed to art patrons on this first day; however, they are allowed into the stands. In addition there are roaming camera crews following the judges around and getting candid shots of the artists during the setup/judging process. The people in the stands are treated to streaming images on multiple screens in addition to hearing the running commentary of the emcee. Art patrons are encouraged to come early to watch various artists drive in and setup. They can see firsthand what type of vehicle an artist drives, how large a trailer they may pull, and how many helpers are employed. Food vendors are located throughout the stadium complex along with indoor clean rest rooms. Parking is also convenient around the outside of the stadium. Art patrons are encouraged to cheer for their favorite artist as the judges make their rounds.

At 6:00 pm the judges assemble and render their decisions in front of the crowd. Their results are announced over the loud speaker, on the closed circuit TV, and posted to the scoreboard. Any contestant receiving two out of three votes from the judges are allowed to exhibit their work for the next two days of the art fair. Those who tried to fool Mother Nature and pass themselves off as "real artists" are sent packing and are required to have their tents removed before 9:00 pm that night. All of the day's drama is played out on the closed circuit TVs for the art patrons' delight.

Art patrons who were present for the first day of events are given an art collector's pass to allow them two hours early bird entry into the fair for the next two days before the masses are allowed in. Since they were present for the jurying and witnessed the removal of "non-real artists," art patrons could feel fairly confident that the artists left would be of high caliber and the actual originators of the art. An added benefit of the stadium setup is the ability to control crowd access and the security on all artist materials once the gates are locked. Most "real artists" who have participated in this setup out west have nothing but praise for it. They feel it gives everyone an equal chance to exhibit since the actual quality of work is judged rather than slides or digital images which can be doctored up. The artists also mentioned that they like the added security, clean bathrooms, and ease of parking. Those who tried to pass themselves off as "real artists" and got caught hate the system. Art patrons also love the new system not only for the drama of the event but also for the screening process each artist is put through. Sounds like a win-win situation to me; now if we could only get NBC to cover it during prime time!