Marketing Mondays: What the Juror Saw

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Recently I served as the juror for New England Collective II at Galatea Fine Arts, a cooperative gallery in Boston’s gallery-filled South End. I’ve done a fair amount of jurying, but I’ve never followed in the footsteps of a museum curator (Dina Deitsch, associate curator of contemporary art at the DeCordova Museum), who did the job last year. Once I started looking at images, however, any apprehension I might have felt disappeared into the task at hand.

Rachel Thurn, Curves 2 (Limacon), oil pastel on board, 28 x 36 inches
All the works show in this post were selected  for the exhibition

I’m sharing my process with you for Marketing Mondays because, while every juror approaches the task differently, I think it’s helpful to understand that there is a process. Sometimes jurors give a talk about their selections. Other times they speak informally with  artists at the opening, which is what I'll be doing. If you are at a point in your career where you are still entering juried shows, this information may be helpful.
A Large Selection of Work
Unlike curating, where one starts from a concept, in jurying, one encounters a huge selection of work that doesn’t necessarily have any conceptual connection. (Thematic shows are easier in this regard.) But whether thematic or not, it’s impossible to have preconceived ideas about a show whose work you haven’t previously seen. Jurying forces me to expand my thinking while at the same time using the critical skills I have always relied on. The job as I see it is not just to select a number of interesting works, but to create an cohesive exhibition from those interesting works.  
In Thinking about Wax, a show I juried from actual work several years ago, I found myself literally in the middle of the art. It was a great opportunity to see texture and nuance, something that happens in studio visits for a curated show but rarely for a juried show.  As I kept removing the work I didn’t respond to, or the work that didn’t fit with the work I’d already selected, the show gradually emerged.

This time I sat in front of a large-monitor Mac and viewed work from a program set up for the purpose. Conceptually I worked in a different way: I moved the potential “Yes” selections into a folder of their own so that I could view them in a focused way.

Gillian Fournier, Home is Where the Books Are, archival pigment print with Liquitex glaze, 12 x 12 inches

Yes and No
What consitutes a No? For me it’s work that looks derivative (if Sean Scully has already done it, you don’t have to), conceptually undeveloped (what, exactly am I looking at and why?), formally unresolved (it doesn’t “work”) or technically inadequate (incompetent execution).

Beginner work is a No. What marks a beginner? A reliance on the medium or technique rather than the idea. Identifying beginner work is like Justice Potter Stewart's famous description of pornography: "I know it when I see it."

An inadequate image is an automatic No. I’ve seen an enormous leap in visual quality over the past few years. Everyone has. So the inadequate images—in this case, several that were markedly smaller than required—stood out because they simply could not be read at the size the program presented them. If I can’t read the image, I can’t consider it. Another work looked interesting in the thumbnail but when I clicked on it to viewing size, it was insufficiently large in the viewing format to give me a sense of the surface. Were there brush strokes? Was it smooth? Could I see the tooth of the canvas? You get the picture—something I didn’t get. I thought about selecting the work provisionally, with a final decision to be made on delivery, but there were so many other choices that ultimately I opted not to.

Here’s another No: the artist who sent in submissions--in this case, it was two--so different from one another they looked to have been done by two different people. I didn’t see the names, but an ID number grouped the works by artist. I know the thinking is, “If I don’t get in with one style, perhaps this other one will do the trick.” It’s an unsophisticated way of presenting oneself and I don’t recommend it.

Of course jurying is a subjective process. I might see a hot mess while another juror sees a hot new idea. The large painting which, to my eye, has only size going for it might have been another juror’s ambitious statement. If you’re going to enter juried shows—and I think they are a great way for emerging artists to get their work out, and for mid-career artists to get their work into a specific situation—submit to the proccess with a sense of what the esthetic of the juror is. We can stretch, but we can't change to how we respond to art. So do a little homework: What is the scope of what have we shown or written about?

What sends a work to my Yes folder?  First and foremost there’s a certain je ne sai quois—the it factor—something that quickens my pulse and make me lean forward into the monitor. There are also the elements that each juror will consider in a different way: concept, adept handling of materials, visual intrigue or appeal, and the sense that everything is working together so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
 Rose Olson, August Morning Mists, acrylic on baltic birch, diptych 12 x 26 x 3

The Yes Folder
Out of 243 images, about 90 went into the Yes folder. This is where I started to think about the actual show. Much as I would have liked to include all the work represented in the folder, the size of the gallery—three exhibition rooms plus a viewing niche—required that I edit my initial selections. The good news: With separate viewing areas, the exhibition could easily accommodate variety.

Where to start? Since this is a show of New England work, it seemed appropriate to go for the broad view—What’s going on in New England right now?—rather than a narrow selection of 10 or 20 artists, each with multiple  works. Besides, expansiveness is a typical feature of summer group shows.
Organizing the show
Without an organizing principle, a big group show is just a lot of art to look at and no good reason why. As I started to move the images around within the Yes folder, generic but identifiable groupings emerged:

Abstraction: This is the largest category, reflective of the greatest number of submissions. The selected works, large or small,  feature gesture, geometry, or pattern. Saturated color is a unifier, as is surface. Of course, you'll see a fair amount of fluidity  between and among the categories, as well as works that don't "fit" any but are sufficiently assertive to have secured a place in the exhibition.

 Laurie Goddard, Wicked Good, encaustic, 26 x 26 inches
Binnie Birstein, Swarm, encaustic, 14 x 14 inches

Sue Post, Whitewash Three, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
Maria Napolitano, Garden Up Close, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches 

Organic and biomorphic: While my personal preference is for grid-based abstraction, my job as a juror is to look beyond—far beyond—my own personal parameters. Still, I surprised myself here in selecting a large number of works that spoke of lushness, fecundity and growth. Hey, it’s summer! (I might have made a different selection in the winter, just as another juror would surely have made a different selection out of these submissions.)

Terry Gips, Source, archival pigment prints, 55 x 49 inches
 Dawna Bemis, Coral,  mixed media, 16 x 10 x 10 inches

John Burkett, Demosthenes, oil on paper, 11 x 14 inches
Gregory Wright, Visceral Response II, encaustic/mixed media, 16 x 16 inches

Sculpture and Assemblage: I was surprised at the small amount of freestanding sculpture  submitted. (Perhaps they were all at Boston Sculptors, a few buildings away?) Three-dimensional work typically has a greater chance of getting into a juried show, because so much other work is meant for the wall. With assemblage, especially boxes and/or extremely personal subject matter, the specter of Joseph Cornell hovers, so I love to see idiosyncrasy send that ghost packing. And, of course, not every bit of assemblage has a branch in the Cornell family tree. 

Lynette Haggard, Rythmo Box #5, mixed media/encaustic, 11 x 13 x 7 inches

Lisa Barthelson, Family Debris Series, encaustic/found objects, 24 x 24 x 7 inches

Nancy Natale, Rubberella, mixed media, 12 x 12 inches
Julie Shaw Lutts, Family Matters, mixed media assemblage

Figuration: The relatively small number of figurative works submitted resulted in a correspondingly small selection. It was surprising, then, to find Jesus twice, possibly three times, among submissions in contexts both iconic and ironic.

Stephanie Angelo, Vuitton Jesus, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches

Final Decisions
Some 127 artists entered, and 55 got in, about 43 percent. Most are represented by a single work, but among the single works are two diptychs and a 12-part photographic installation. There are also two small works from each of three artists. The show will thus consist of 58 works ranging in size from a mixed-media stitched piece barely larger than a hand span to the aforementioned photographic grid, which is larger than an arm span. I’m writing this before the installation, so while I have been able to tell you my process, I can show you only the images the artists submitted for jurying. I'll follow up this weekend with some installation shots--particularly of some larger works I haven't shown here--to let you see how it all comes together.

The opening is Friday, August 5, at Galatea Fine Art in Boston’s South End. I’ll be there. Come on over to say Hi and see the show.

New England Collective II
460 B Harrison Avenue
Opening is 6:00—8:00 p.m.


lisa said...

Looks like a great show and thanks for that inside view.

annell4 said...

Nice post. Interesting to share your process.

Peter Ciccariello said...

Thanks for this Joanne. As one of the artists ending in the 'no' folder it is very valuable hearing your selection process. All in all it looks like it shaped up to be a wonderful show; It will be interesting to see it in person.

Unknown said...

Just got a little sneak peek while picking up my artwork at Galatea. This will be one great looking exhibit...can't wait to see the pieces on the wall. Nice to also have a sneak peek at your thought process.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for the inside look at your process. I'm looking forward to seeing the show in person. The hanging will be just as important as the selection.

Karl said...

Thanks for the insight. said...

This is great, thank you so much. I've been applying to a lot of juried shows recently but am getting rejected a lot. This has given me a few things to consider a little more when applying, fingers crossed next time. Thanks Joanne, Kind regards, Seamus

Robyn Cole said...

This is a really great peek 'behind the curtain'-- critical for artists to get this view point. Thanks!

smellofpaint said...

Joanne, even beyond the obvious value of this post for artists -- you are such a good writer! with a very fluid and appropriate choice of words, engaging directness and spareness of means.
BTW, very good to meet you and see your own work for the first time in person at the Arden Gallery last month.
--Philip Gerstein

laurie goddard said...

Thanks Joanne, for another pertinent and timely piece. I have an opening in Rockland, Maine the same night as this one, so I'll miss seeing you.
Glad you liked my entry; hope the hanging went smoothly. There's another thing to thank you for, taking this all the way to the end....!

Inky Leaves said...

Thank you for this post and for sharing your thoughts and the process in which you go through when judging art work. Thoroughly interesting.