The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion played a concert here in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended in all of my life.
I saw these guys at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and it was good, but not like this – they were giving the S’aint crowd something special that night. It was crazy. They didn’t stop playing at all, they just kept going. So much so the crowd had waves of people seeking some relief on the patio from the heat and sheer volume, and then coming back for more.
So why is this concert review on an art blog? Because this music legend mentioned Hamilton’s monthly “Art Crawl” taking place that same night on James Street North, right beside the concert venue. And he told the Hamilton arts community exactly what they needed to hear.
“I took a little walk through your art festival tonight – is it every Friday?” He rasped into the microphone as the band played in a holding pattern, “Well, I took a walk there around the corner and saw all the art and your stuff for sale – and it’s shitty. Fuck your little art festival, I’m from New York, baby! The center of the fucking art universe!” And then they launched back into music awesomeness.
Oh my god, I laughed and clapped. Not because I think he’s completely right, but mostly because this is rock’n’roll and this “Fuck you and whatever you do” attitude is part of the real deal.
But I also think he is right in that we needed to hear this – this art community needs to know they have a long way to go, and are not there yet. And, perhaps most profoundly at all, we need to recognize that attracting a bunch of suburbanites into the core of Hamilton for one night is not artistic success – it’s simply pandering to people who are too chicken shit to think outside their subdivision boxes otherwise. Art Crawl is like a mediocre themepark where a couple of thousand people may shuffle by some work and judge it in 1.3 seconds based on it’s mass entertainment appeal. Some buy things. Small businesses and other areas benefit.
That’s great, but at the end of the day we are still left with a shitty little art festival for a bunch of local Canadian suburbanites who don’t really give a shit about the arts (as is the way with Canadian culture. Almost the worst in the world this way).
We have long, long way to go to truly impress anybody beyond our borders, much less New York. I don’t think we ever will here as this festival is headed firmly in another direction at this point, as is the glossy brochure version of the festival “Super Crawl” which is really just a bunch of corporate sponsors, bands and average art installations*. We’ve traded that for some sort of bullshit “vibrant” metric that funding agencies like to see written about this kind of stuff.
Nope, this is not the place anymore for serious artists and serious works. Art Crawl is now just background noise for contemporary art as the gentrification cycle is now in full swing and developers are loading their families into the minivan and scouting out the area. Perhaps while enjoying an ice cream and noticing a few paintings that look like the group of seven.
Thanks for speaking the truth, Jon Spencer. It *is* a shitty little art festival in many ways. It needs to keep growing, to spill out of James Street North and for their to be a genuine art scene based on ideas and talent and hard work – not a package to sell like some t-shirt to tourists. It needs wow. It needs to leave no doubt as to it’s high caliber and it needs to be so awesome it doesn’t give a shit if you show up or not. We need to do better. The arts is not a gift shop, and I am concerned that the overwhelmingly dominant “We love art crawl don’t you?” crowd is ensuring the demise of Art Crawl before it ever truly got a chance to be something more…
…We need more art explosions, baby! And all the other kinds of art money won’t buy. That’s why many serious artists moved to Hamilton in the first place.
*I believe any programming by committee will be result in an average selection – the best and the worst submission tend to be eliminated through this process. Like Toronto’s Nuit Blanche official programming, having an curated art project aspect to Super Crawl and not a completely open arts festival component that is still listed is criticized by some.