Art Westport Lacked Art

Niki Casady

I know art is subjective. I know that what one person will pay millions of dollars for, another wouldn’t spend $5. I know that I’m not an expert in art, but the 36th Annual Art Westport needs to step up their game.
I may not be an expert in art in the trained sense, but I have been helping my artmajor sister study for her tests over modern art and the Italian Renaissance and some of it has sunk in. I have also been going to the Des Moines Art Festival—winner of the Gold Grand Pinnacle Award for best festival in the world in 2014 and has collected a total of 21 Pinnacle Awards—since I was in high school.
The event itself was a bit bland. Instead of having food vendors at the event, they relied on the surrounding restaurants, bars and a few food trucks. However, vendors usually make small, less expensive portions that are walk-and-eat friendly. This gives visitors a chance to try something (or many somethings) new. The Plaza Art Fair is also surrounded by great restaurants, but those same restaurants have tents out to keep the visitors at the event. Having vendor tents also takes less time than going into a restaurant, waiting to be seated, waiting to place the order, waiting for the order, and then waiting for the check. When people are at events, they want to look around and socialize, not sit in a restaurant that they can go to any day of the week.
As this event is rather small, patrons should have a few hours to spare after visiting the artists booths. Art Westport proudly boasts that it is exclusively for Kansas City Area artists and they managed to round up 127 artists from different mediums. This seems like a lot, but the Des Moines Art Festival had 195 artists last year and the Plaza Art Fair brings in over 240. I was in the area because I had a film class at the Tivoli. Over my hour-lunch break I was able to buzz by each booth, get a disappointing to-go order from a local restaurant, and still had a few minutes after I finished eating.
The biggest reason that it didn’t feel like there were that many booths is that so many of them were similar—the kiss of death in the art world. Don’t get me wrong, they were all technically well made but they weren’t that special. There were two separate places that made leather clutches and purses—and they were cute enough that I was tempted to get one—but the both featured simple designs (and no pockets) that didn’t really make them unique enough to be art. There were they typical heavily-photoshopped prints, abstract paintings, celebrity likenesses, landscapes, close-ups of pretty flowers, and KC architecture as far as the eye could see.
Everything that I just mentioned could have worked and did for a few. Many of the painters used thick strokes and bright colors and the end result was pretty, but not much else. Rick Wright used strong contrasts of bright and dark colors and bold, messy brushstrokes to convey the movement and passion of the dancing, women he paints.
Wright talked a bit about his style on the back of his artist card. “I’m intrigued,” he wrote, “by the nuances of the human form and enjoy both the struggle and the fluidity that exists within a successful composition.” His intentionality is clear in his work and is lacking in many of the others on display.
If you want to see what a real festival is like, plan on attending the Plaza Art Fair, which starts Sept. 9. The parking is a hassle, but it is worth it.