Westport and Bridgeport, with downtowns just 10 miles apart, has always been a study in contrasts. When that now-deceased actor-type living in Westport called Bridgeport the “armpit of Connecticut,” an irreversible diplomatic blunder was committed to the history books.
Today, the rivalry continues, at least in my own mind. Each town hosted their respective art fairs. Westport’s is a long-standing event, attracting lots of plaid-clad bond traders and ladies with hats. Bridgeport’s was a little more scrappy, a first-time effort, and had lots more soul. If Westport was the Park Avenue Armory, Bridgeport was Avenue D. Each had their merits.
The art: Bridgeport had what we call emerging artists, some better than others, some profane, some raw, all memorable. Westport’s selection of artists was vast — over 135 artists. But most appeared to be art fair veterans, few local, and most aiming for middle-brow tastes. The jury process needs to be tightened in Westport — a lot of very trite stuff detracted from some of the vibrant and exciting stuff. Then again, there wasn’t any art at the Westport festival that would get you blackballed at the club or endanger your promotion at the firm.
The atmosphere: I teased the Westport organizers for obnoxiously hyping the the riverside locale and promising upscale clientele, but they weren’t all wrong. Paths ran alongside the Saugatuck, murky though it was, and it was a pleasant enough amble. You almost forgot that Parker Harding Plaza is actually a tortuous paved lot nicknamed Hardly Parking Plaza. But Bridgeport’s locale was inspiring for an entirely different reason– but you have to know how unthinkable this effort would have been 10 or 15 years ago. The lovely McLevy Green downtown has been reclaimed. A triumph. And to think Bridgeport historically didn’t have a green. That spot was some stores and a parking lot when downtown was a strong banking and retail center. Strange side note: Approaching the fair in Westport, the first thing we saw was a cop on the perimeter carefully watching the scene. We never saw one cop in the Bridgeport event.
The music: There wasn’t any when we arrived in Westport, but there was probably some family-friendly music. In Bridgeport, Saint Bernadette wailed like nobody’s business. I swore Janis Joplin was on stage. Amazing. The Cosmic Jibaros followed. They really rocked. Trouble was, it was a little tough to talk above the music, but I would have missed the energy if they stopped.
Diversity: Westport was 99 percent white and straight, or at least straight-arrow. (An unscientific finding.) Bridgeport was a lot more diverse, but where was the Latin art in either? And I continue to be astonished that the design world is so gay-fabulous, but the art gallery world is kind of macho-straight-dude. That’s why it’s easy to find nude figuratives of women, but try to find a little pinga, and you’re mostly out of luck. The lack of diversity kind of figured in Westport’s art selection which had its high notes, but tolerated too many bland, forgettable works. In fact, they were put to shame by a wonderful little pop-up gallery nearby, but I’ll write about that later.
Food: The important part. Bridgeport had two catering trucks, one serving fairly awful Spanish food, and the other from Tiago’s, the popular downtown watering hole. The Spanish truck constantly had lines; people appeared to be overlooking Taigo’s bar menu in favor of its beer taps. I had the watermelon beer and got what I deserved. Westport had booths representing two of the town’s better restaurants: Blue Lemon and Da Pietro’s, the latter of which sold us some fresh lemonade that went down very well.
Quirky footnote: Guess which fair was preceded by a wedding in one of their galleries. Bridgeport’s! The City Lights Gallery, whose executive director was wed in an almost impromptu service right there. Charlie Walsh and Mary Witkowski accompanied on kazoo. Congratulations Suzanne and John.
Conclusion: Both are worth the time and effort to go, and they are really apples and oranges. Westport continues on Sunday, but unfortunately Bridgeport’s was a one-day affair. I hope they do this again next year, especially if Sweetport is dead and gone forever.