Researching the history of outdoor art shows turns up pages and pages of current shows around the country, but precious little about the actual beginning. More than likely, these events began simultaneously popping up in the early 1950s, with the proliferation of art school graduates and a booming post-war economy that made art affordable to the middle-class.
This democratization of art was looked down on by critics, galleries and academia, most of whom believed real art could only be created, understood and purchased by an elite few. If one needed an example of the dissipation of art, you had only to look at outdoor art festivals, with their masses of people, food and carnival like atmosphere.
Opportunity sweeps all before it and, in spite of criticism, the outdoor shows became wildly successful. That success happened, in part, because savvy civic organizations recognized a gold mine in large outdoor art exhibitions. For a fee they provided artists a ready made venue, and the guarantee of thousands of potential customers.
In the early days, two-dimensional art reigned supreme and most judges’ prizes went to paintings, prints and drawings. For years 3D artists complained about a glaring inequity – the buying public loved and purchased ceramic, jewelry and glass arts, but show judges turned up their noses at this type of work.
Artist grumbling paid off and in the mid-1980s shows began having separate 3D categories and craft judges. Gradually, art show viewers’ tastes and judges’ objective opinions came more in line. Three-dimensional art everywhere began winning major awards. Galleries and critics responded with exhibitions and praise for the exciting new art forms. The results could be called the Rise of The Beautiful Object and there is no denying the fascination of a beautiful art piece nestled in one’s hands.
The culmination of this rise was seen last weekend at the Gasparilla Art Festival in Tampa. The Best of Show Award of $15,000 went to Gulfport artist Nancy Cervenka for a magnificent sculptured dress made of 16mm film. Titled Wearable Art and pictured above, the piece is an object of unusual beauty.