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Artists. How many ‘souvenirs’ from group exhibitions do you have in your studios? I have too many. By souvenir, I mean a framed and finished piece of art which was exhibited once or twice, not purchased, and returned to the artist. Some of these works are favorites and adorn the walls of my home, but most are wrapped in plastic and stored in my studio. Indefinitely. Don’t get me wrong – group exhibits are great, but there are limited options for unsold works once a show is over. How many times is it okay for an artist to exhibit the same piece? And should an artist feel bad when their professionally framed work didn’t sell?

If this cycle of frustration leaves you feeling powerless, look to ‘Selfie,’ the newest exhibition at Guest Spot at the Reinstitute, for a paradigm shift. The group exhibition features small works by artists who have participated in prior exhibitions at the venue, and functions as a summation of the gallery’s program thus far. For this exhibit Rod Malin, director of the gallery and curator, gave participating artists an assignment: create a ‘selfie.’ What is a selfie? This term is commonly used to describe a cell phone camera self-portrait used for social networking purposes. However, for this exhibit, Malin did not clarify what the term should mean for the artists. In addition, the curator stipulated size and framing requirements for the show and that the artists must attend the opening reception to participate.  The artists were informed that they were going to trade their works with each other and eventually take home another’s work from the show.

During the opening reception, artists drew numbers and publicly chose the work they wanted, in front of a crowd of attendees and fellow artists. Like a Yankee or White Elephant swap, artists could choose any work they wanted – even pieces that had already been chosen. If you will notice, in the photos below, each work of art has several red dots next to it – instead of signifying a gallery sale, as a red dot typically does – the red dot connotes the number of times the work was chosen and ‘stolen.’ Each work could be picked a total of three times and stealing was encouraged. Malin and several of the participating artists claimed that the exchange was heated, exciting, and fun. Artists also expressed their excitement in the new piece of art that they would be taking home after the exhibition ends.

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Rob de Oude

Although bartering is typical for students and informal exhibits, it is rare to find a professional art gallery condoning this type of behavior for obvious reasons: the gallery doesn’t make any money and the works of art are ‘de-valued.’ Or are they?  Is it empowering for artists to choose to barter instead of attempting to sell their work in a group show? Is it a cop-out to trade, rather than pay, for a work you truly value? I have been told by art professionals that it is wrong for artists to trade works, that if you value your work you will sell it for a high price or not at all. This approach, as I have mentioned, can lead to a studio full of unsold works in nice frames. I have also been informed that artists are liable to pay taxes on the market value of works traded, which seems ridiculous, but addresses the issue of market value in a direct way.

Without being obnoxious or pejorative, ‘Selfie’ squashes all these complaints and criticisms of art bartering and presents an effective, artist-centric model for the art market. It questions the purpose of a small framed work of art and puts the answer in an artist’s hands, rather than ‘the market’ or a well-heeled collector. Most artists don’t have the coin to purchase works of art, because they are required to invest completely in their own practice.

Like many group shows, ‘Selfie’ is a snapshot of a unique time in history and a unique community of artists exhibiting in Baltimore. It’s also rather uneven, like many group shows, with obvious highlights and works which struggle to keep up with the pack. What is unique about this exhibit is the placement of the artist ‘self’ at the center of the process, taking out the market forces which often dominate conversations about art, even here in Baltimore. Beyond any implied market value, art is intended to be lived with, rather than viewed once, photographed and then forgotten. ‘Selfie’ at Guest Spot has given sixteen artists a terrific opportunity to participate in a well-curated group exhibit, knowing that their own art collections will be all the richer in the process.

IMG_4312Jean Alexander Frater, detail below

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IMG_4311Lesser Gonzalez

IMG_4301Gina Dawson and Carl Gunhouse

IMG_4298John Bohl, sculpture, foreground

IMG_4297Ginevra Shay

IMG_4295Lisa Dillin

IMG_4294Lou Joseph

IMG_4309Jason Hughes

IMG_4308Julie Benoit, top L, Jassie Rios top R, and Skye Gilkerson, below

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IMG_4306Alex Ebstein

IMG_4304James Bouché

IMG_4303Ryan Hoover

SELFIE at Guest Spot at the Reinstitute
June 8, 2013 through July 13, 2013
Hours: Wednesday 5-7 & Saturday 1-5 or by appointment
Location: 1715 North Calvert St. Baltimore, MD