Really, what is the point? I have been asking myself this question for some time now in regards to juried shows. They almost always require an entry fee, which I consider nothing more than a tax on the artist. For their current Regional Juried Exhibition, Maryland Art Place required a ten-dollar application fee. Hosting institutions rarely cover the cost of shipping the artwork, but some will provide return shipping costs. MAP required the artist to deliver the work and in some cases, install it as well. Perhaps it is fortunate that it is a regional exhibition, where submitting artists had to be a resident of Maryland, Delaware or Pennsylvania because it is pretty damn expensive for an artist to ship a properly packed, insured and framed 16” x 20” piece across the country. So, proximity in this case is key. Oh, and no artists from Delaware were selected.
When one considers the above information it should come as no surprise that a vast majority of artists who respond to juried calls for entry are recent graduates, low-level and low-volume artists, or, for the most part, just really bad artists, with mid-career and established artists not even considering submitting for such an exhibition. In general, what you end up with is a hodge-podge mess of an exhibition with low quality work where the mediocre pieces unfortunately rise to the top as standouts.
However, in this case, Maryland Art Place and Kristen Hileman, Curator of Contemporary Art at the BMA and juror for this exhibition, have managed to put together an exhibition that is an exception to this rule.
According to Hileman,“the exhibition is first and foremost a survey of contemporary artists from our region.” When she began to narrow down the list of selected artists, she found several specific commonalities between works in the show. Hileman stated that it was “refreshing to encounter many works that didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously.” It seems that Hileman responded to works of art in which “the artists truly seemed to be enjoying the process of working with their materials and not necessarily delivering a heavy-handed message in some dry manner.”
The latter is definitely the case with this exhibition. As Art Critic Dave Hickey championed in his essay Frivolity and Unction, “art is a silly and frivolous thing to do.” When artists realize that what we do is, in fact, silly, the whole world is a better place, where we can sit back, relax, and enjoy ourselves, without worrying about heavy-handed messages. Sometimes we need a little fun in our lives to make it through the day. The viewer is confronted with such frivolity at the front doors of the Maryland Art Place.
George Belcher’s Wrasth is a playful maquette-sized piece reminiscent of Louise Bourgeous’ Maman installed on the grounds of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain. Belcher has created a spray-painted steel bow-tie version of that monumental spider that sits like ribbon, wrapping around an invisible present. Instead of an emotion like dread, from a fear of spiders, or awe from the sheer size of Maman, Belcher offers us a whimsical piece that would be at home as a character in Tim Burton’s animated tale A Nightmare Before Christmas.
An example of an artist that seems to be enjoying the process of working with materials is Tamar LaPierre. She, a female clown-like figure made of expandable foam and spray-painted with random patterns in varying colors, fits perfectly into the ‘new casualist’ approach discussed by Sharon L. Butler’s Brooklyn Rail article. Unlike some casualist practitioners, LaPierre’s work is not a passive aggressive incomplete, but takes this approach to a higher level. There is an intentional messiness about the work, a controlled chaos. Although LaPierre’s loose methods appear to be playful, the message of the piece is anything but. It comments on the objectification of women and society’s unattainable rules for what is considered beautiful.
On the opposite side of a casualist approach, but still fun, Kyle J. Bauer’s work possesses a minimal and meticulous aesthetic. I laughed out loud when I first saw Composition I 953 because it reminded me of an awesome croquet set. Bauer, a member of Baltimore Clayworks, created the three cylindrical componenets of the piece through porcelain slip casting, and then inserted them horizontally into a bright blue wooden base that only adds to the game-like quality. With the brightness of the colors and slick plastic feel of the piece, Bauer encourages the viewer relate to the work with childlike wonder and to reminisce for an easier, playful time, when people fell into one of only two categories: Lego or Lincoln log. With Composition I 953, it is obvious Bauer was definitely a Lego kid.
An equally compelling minimal piece in this exhibit is Ben Piwowar’s B.R., a reclaimed furniture element that leans against the wall of the rear gallery. While looking at the work, I could not help but consider the similarities to Virginia Overton’s work at Mitchell-Inness & Nash’s booth at the Freize Art Fair in May. Overton also uses reclaimed materials whose orientation is only slightly altered, but on a much larger scale. I always enjoy work such as Piwowar’s and the seemingly effortless way the pieces are installed. Where Overton questions they way we perceive the space objects are installed, Piwowar seems to want the viewer to focus on the reclaimed objects themselves. This contemplation leads the viewer to think about the history of such pieces and our connection to them.
So, what is the point of juried exhibitions? We’ll probably never know. However, MAP’s 2013 Regional Juried exhibition is an opportunity for the emerging artists in the region to experience professional exhibition practices and to expose their work to a museum curator. The exhibit is also a chance for a curator to enjoy immediate results from a decision-making process, instead of the normal two to three year process of most museum exhibitions. The show allows the viewer to see a regional community of emerging work selected by a qualified juror in a professional exhibition space, without the sterile and overwhelming vastness that major contemporary art spaces often have. The Maryland Art Place and Kristen Hileman provided a credible purpose in this juried show.
The Regional Juried Exhibition at Maryland Art Place will be up through October 26, 2013.
* Author Dwayne Butcher is an artist, curator, writer and chicken-wing connoisseur that recently moved to Baltimore from Memphis, TN. To see his work and curatorial projects visit his website, dwaynebutcher.com and follow him on twitter @dwaynebutcher.
*Installation Photos courtesy of Dwayne Butcher