Unexpectedly I’m surrounded by more art than I can possibly take in during one evening. This is art with a purpose! This is art positioned to support the creation, collection and celebration of more art! This is art that makes a bold and unconventional statement by asking viewers to commit to a purchase before knowing the identity of the artist!
At the heart of the exhibit is the demand that viewers really look at the art, and make judgments based on aesthetic qualities alone. This is art in the raw, without the influence of the reputation of an artist’s celebrity, without knowledge of past successes or a work’s projected value. I’m a visitor, not a member of the gallery, so I’m happy to pay the $2 admission price to have this experience.
At the Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo), in upstate New York, thousands of donated artworks are on display. Thousands! Each piece is precisely 6 x 6 inches, in 2D or 3D format. There are illustrations, photographs, mixed media pieces, sculptures, tapestries, and the graphite outline of sketchy cartoons. There is finger paint and there is spin art. They are all mounted to the wall with pushpins, per the guidelines of the exhibit. They are all for sale. The twist is that viewers have no idea whatsoever who the artist is. They are asked to make the $20 purchase (a donation really), supporting the gallery’s efforts and exhibits throughout the rest of the year. . . blind.
I’m thrilled at the idea! On this night the gallery is packed with visitors. It’s a Wednesday night, and the show has been up for some time, but it’s just past the halfway point in the Rochester International Jazz Festival, so the streets are packed with creative types, and those who appreciate the efforts of both internationally known and local “unknown” artists. They wander in. I wander in. I ask for approval to carry my Pino Grigio in with me – there were vendors all over the streets, with food, booze and festival merchandise. I’m allowed in, while cautioned not to spill.
As I wander deeper into the gallery I wonder. . . does the placement of the art within the gallery influence how it is perceived? Surely! Does it determine whether it is purchased? Perhaps. I might be struck immediately by a piece just inside the front doors of the gallery, or not be interested in lingering near the pieces that are placed next to the door that leads to the bathroom. I might dismiss what I see presented in the entryway, wondering what more is to come, and quickly scan the rest of the gallery for a piece that jumps off the wall, demanding that it come home with me.
The art is stacked from floor to ceiling, to accommodate the thousands of entries. If a piece is up high, and I want a closer look, there is a tall ladder, and I’m once again cautioned. The sign instructs me to ask a staff member for assistance with my viewing.
This international small art exhibit is in its 9th year, and is comprised of “thousands of artworks made and donated by celebrities, international & local artists, designers, college students, youths, and YOU,” according to the gallery website. Pieces are signed on the back, exhibited anonymously, and all priced at a very affordable $20. Pricing is consistent, across the board, no matter who the artist is. It’s like a blind wine tasting in which you must commit to the bottle after just one sip. You might end up with a piece by the next “great” in contemporary art, or the work of a 3rd grade elementary student. Either way you’ll love it, and the way it looks, because you purchase it based on the Gestalt visual impression you had when you first encountered it, unencumbered by the artist’s identity.
While I’m sure the work of some local artists is immediately recognizable, I wonder how many surprises there are when the names of the artists are revealed. Artists may be curious who ended up with their work, but they will only find out if the patron who made the purchase chooses to reach out. They can use the artist’s contact information to make a connection, and perhaps purchase additional works.
The pieces are displayed until July 17, 2016. As of this posting, you have 4 days left to see the works in person, but your patron dollars continue to be accepted through an online gallery collection. Their website declares that 2372 pieces have been sold so far this year. This is RoCo’s only fundraiser, and in 2016 a goal has been set to sell 2,500 artworks. Almost there! There’s no fee for artists to enter; I encourage artist friends to consider submitting for next year’s show. Artists can enter up to 4 works, and the gallery represents the global art community, so you’d be in diverse company.
Staying current with the times, the gallery has a strong online presence. If you are so inclined, show them some love, and consider using #RoCo6x6 .
Did I mention the XXX Art? A select few pieces, near the reception desk at the front of the gallery, are draped with a black cloth. I can’t help but inquire, to find out why they are presented this way. Is this the artist’s creative vision? No. These handful of pieces are deemed unsuitable for public display. Viewers must choose, and take deliberate action, to see them, but there’s a crowd gathered in front of the pieces,and I don’t get a chance to squeeze in and see them. However, the painting of Donald Trump performing fellatio is on open display, for all to see, so I can only imagine (can I?) what is behind the black curtain.
Join me on my next travel adventure!
Rochester Contemporary Art Center: http://www.roco6x6.org/6x6x2016_intro.php
6 x 6 x 2016: http://www.roco6x6.org/6x6x2016_intro.php
Join / Support RoCo: http://www.rochestercontemporary.org/membership.php
City of Rochester: https://www.cityofrochester.gov/