Today we bring you a video of artist Erick Beltrán at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, discussing his work Atlas Eidolon, a sculpture that addresses the question of memory, or “what lives in our heads and how things appear in the world.” This video was produced by our friends at Kadist Art Foundation.
Yaakov Israel: The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art
In 1981, John Baldessari said, “Probably one of the worst things to happen to photography is that cameras have viewfinders…” but artist Yaakov Israel would certainly disagree. Israel’s photographs in The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, South Carolina, are carefully constructed. Israeli-born and -based, Israel relishes the serendipitous encounters he’s had while exploring the geography and people of his native land, and this show is a case in point: As he was packing up his equipment after a long day in the desert looking for subjects for his photographs, Israel was approached by an elderly man riding a white donkey. He convinced the man to sit for a portrait, quickly assembled his equipment, and captured the image The Man on the White Donkey, HaBiqah (2006). Intrigued by this chance occurrence—it uncannily invokes the Orthodox Jewish tradition of the messiah arriving at the end of days on a white donkey—Israel then used it as the titular inspiration for this series, a body of work rife with chance findings and encounters in the Israeli landscape.
Composed of forty-two photographs of various sizes, the exhibition offers a glimpse of Israel’s inquiry into his native land. The documentary-style photographs demonstrate his curious mind and portray the noteworthy people and places that the artist has encountered in his travels. The work captures unique moments, such as a man praying on the trunk of his car at a gas station in Breslav Hasid Praying, Petrol Station, HaBiqah (2011), or an eerily empty view of the usually crowded Ein Gedi spa on the Dead Sea in Sunshades, Ein Gedi (2011). A wide variety of portraits are mixed in, ranging from a peculiarly staged photograph of two police officers on a highway, Police, HaBiqah (2011), to a candid glimpse of two men waiting for a ride to work in Riad and Mahmoud, Almog Crossroad (2010).
If Israel’s approach to capturing simple yet deliberately composed photographs does not read as contemporary, it may be because his very method of creating these images is downright old-fashioned. Eschewing the ubiquity of digital photographic equipment, Israel opts to use a large-format 8×10 camera instead. Though certainly more onerous to transport through difficult terrain and challenging climates, Israel prefers a process-oriented technique that requires close attention to detail. Unlike a smartphone, for instance, which is capable of snapping several images in a matter of seconds, the time to set up a large-format camera, as well as the high cost of materials, forces the photographer to construct each image with greater care than if using a more present-day camera. Likewise, the process of setting up the equipment and capturing photographs renders the artist more as a performer integrated within his setting than as a distant observer.
Apart from their function as documentary photographs, the works are also serve as statements on the relationship between natural and manufactured landscapes. Many images include structures built by humans; often these elements appear as ruins, such as Abandoned Water Park, Dead Sea (2010) and Swimming Pool, Northern Judean Desert (2011). Israel romanticizes his native scenery, and while this theme becomes overwrought—repetitively similar in fashion throughout the body of work—it does well to reinforce photography’s essential function of framing a particular cut-off view.
The work is presented in a dense configuration in the galleries, a format that ameliorates the sense of predictability throughout the photographs. As a consequence, viewers read the exhibition as a flashing slideshow of aesthetically similar images, further divorcing each one from any specific narrative. Aside from the few anecdotes presented in this text—which this reviewer only learned from hearing the artist speak about his work—the show presents a body of photographs unencumbered by supplemental information. While such contextual information assuages the curious, the lack of it within the gallery empowers visitors to project their own estimations and perspectives on each work. In doing so, Israel allows the viewer to explore facets of the Israeli landscape through the lens of his camera. Engaging in a project to excavate sites of an explicit personal connection, Israel links viewers’ own personal histories and the subject matter of his images, thereby discovering underlying connections between disparate people, geographies, and cultures.
Yaakov Israel: The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey is on view at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art until October 4, 2014.
 John Baldessari and Nancy Drew, John Baldessari (New York: The New Museum, 1981), 61.
Today from the archives, we bring you an early #Hashtags column on images, photography, and the movement from two dimensions to three. Though this post was originally published on January 24, 2012, the distinction between “real” and “unreal” continue to be germane to both contemporary art and everyday culture.
“Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and of making it obsolete.” —Susan Sontag
In her 1977 essay, “The Image-World,” Susan Sontag wrote that the practice of photography—and the overabundance of images that come along with it—leave us desensitized to the “real” world. Despite the fact that photographs are considered traces of their subject, we typically see photographs as independent, material objects—separate from their original subjects and somehow more palatable. They even occupy a specific moment of time, different from our own, turning the present into the past and the past into the present.
But Sontag was writing about the role of the photograph as she knew it, which never included sculpture or photographs functioning not just as traces of objects but as actual simulations, or three-dimensional copies. The last year has seen a rise in artists working with photography in sculpture, with more than a few of these artists choosing to juxtapose “real” objects with their 2- or 3-dimensional photographic copies. Is there a difference between images functioning like this in the world and “the image-world” that Sontag describes? Or are they one and the same?
Ironically, even as Sontag was puzzling over “The Image-World” and the rest of the essays that would become On Photography, searching to delineate a niche in the fine-art world for photography, curator Peter Bunnell took an even larger step. In 1970, Bunnell launched “Photography into Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art, “the first comprehensive survey of photographically formed images used in a sculptural or fully dimensional manner.”
The show included a work by Jerry McMillan called “Wrinkle Bag” (1965)–perhaps one of the first of its kind. “Wrinkle Bag” was not merely a photograph, but a high-quality, black-and-white reproduction of the texture of crumpled paper, cut into the shape of a brown paper lunch sack. In its recent re-manifestation at Los Angeles’s Cherry and Martin Gallery, “Wrinkle Bag” looked eerily contemporary, perhaps because this type of photographic reproduction has resurfaced recently in the works of contemporary artists, like Urs Fischer, among others.
In 2008, Fischer collaborated with Gavin Brown on the exhibition Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns? at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. Fischer and Brown hired a photographer to document the gallery’s previous show, Four Friends—which included work by Donald Baechler, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf—and then wallpapered the gallery with the images, printed in a 1:1 scale. The results were chaotic, with the photographed work punctuating, even interrupting, the current exhibit. There were even moments where a photographed object was juxtaposed against the original, as in the case of the security guard.
Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Amanda N. Simons reviews Rhonda Holberton: YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, California.
Pro Arts Gallery in downtown Oakland is currently host to YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW, a 2 x 2 Solos exhibition of work by Rhonda Holberton, curated by FICTILIS.Mere footsteps from the former epicenter of Occupy Oakland’s nightly clashes with police, Holberton’s work serves as a critical commentary and an eerie reminder of the (sometimes camouflaged) structures of authority that govern civilian life. The exhibition is a series of visual iterations on military technology, consumer culture, and concealment, in the form of textiles, video and sound installations, computer-aided sculpture, and product design.
All the Actors Have Withdrawn (2014) is a digital video projected onto a frosted acrylic panel placed upright on a pedestal. The video depicts a gray-toned, three-dimensional rendering of what appears to be three nude female figures melding into a single conjoined form. Arms, elbows, and fists protrude outward at various angles in combat-like stances. The image rotates upon a central point to reveal a 360-degree view of this grainy, broken, and disintegrating form frozen in space. While the pedestal, figurative form, and rotation at first call reference to classical bronze sculpture, the momentum of the rotation suggests a deeper intent that challenges classical conventions. With less emphasis placed upon the aesthetics of the object, All the Actors Have Withdrawn depicts, rather, a violent conflict carefully paused at an opportune moment.
But the piece itself is only half the experience. The projector from which the video emanates is mounted above the piece and is directed at the viewer. Its lens is carefully taped to reveal just a slit of light that shines and flickers uncomfortably downward. As I stood there, I found myself conflicted. Instinct and experience said to move away from the voyeuristic projector lens, at the risk of being unable to experience the work, but the video’s movement called me to stay put. Such a conflict raises the question, at what point do we sacrifice our personal privacy for the sake of participating in or even simply experiencing contemporary culture? Or, in light of contemporary government surveillance, are we even afforded such a choice today?
Like the content it addresses, Holberton’s work is surprisingly subtle and strategic in its execution. The exhibition’s carefully curated objects—flowing ponchos, perfume bottles, and digitally rendered wallpaper—reference our everyday lives with a comfortable familiarity. With time, the initial ease one might feel dissipates as the camouflaged works reveal themselves: video masked as reality, war marketed as fashion, and an installation that brands gallery-goers not as passive recipients of the works’ messages, but rather as active participants, implicated by their very presence in the space.
YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW is on view at Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California, through September 19, 2014.
Amanda N. Simons is an artist, writer, and educator who lives in Oakland. She received an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts, and is the Exhibition Coordinator for San Francisco’s Queer Cultural Center.
 FICTILIS is the collaborative practice of Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau.
From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you an excerpt from an essay on artistic personae by Jim Gaylord. This article was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.
[...] Helping to keep the artist/heartbreaker stereotype alive today is the character of Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) from the HBO series Girls (2013). The creation of writer/actor/director Lena Dunham (daughter of artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons), it’s fair to assume—given the show’s exaggerated yet realistic tone—that he is based on people Ms. Dunham has actually known in the New York art world. Booth is the kind of cocky, womanizing hipster who sleeps with his dealer and hates the High Line.
His persona is nothing new, bringing to mind Adam Coleman Howard’s “Stash” in Slaves of New York or Steve Buscemi’s role as Gregory Stark in New York Stories, both coincidentally from 1989. These bad-boy art stars exploit their successes to get what they want from others, usually with little consequence. Indeed, in Girls, Booth’s allure is often proportional to his misogynistic behavior. Even after locking the starstruck Marnie (Allison Williams) inside one of his video sculptures against her will, she later praises him for his talent and then has creepy sex with him. “I’m a man,” he tells her, “and I know how to do things.”
It isn’t long before Marnie believes Booth is her boyfriend, but she is actually falling in love with what he represents to her. Having been fired from her gallery job and turned down for another, she is struggling with her own identity. Booth’s “aura” as an artist is clearly attractive to Marnie; perhaps she sees him as a window back into that world, and a way to enter its higher echelons.
Like actors, artists have public personas, which their audiences can mistake for the genuine, private self. Many have intentionally exaggerated their eccentricities to attract attention, such as the outwardly flamboyant Salvador Dalí. In the case of Girls, the Booth who Marnie sees (as opposed to whom we see) is largely a projection from her own imagination. When it later becomes clear that he was just using her, Booth evades any responsibility by throwing a tantrum about how “no one even knows me” and “everyone just uses me for what I represent to them.” These protests elicit little sympathy since, no doubt, there’s likely another admirer willing to be the next victim of his abuse in line behind Marnie.
Roger Hiorns’ current solo exhibition at Luhring Augustine—the British artist’s first in New York City—presents viewers with two inscrutable situations: In one, a quantity of gray powder has been deposited, apparently by hand, over a large, rectangular area occupying the better part of the main gallery; in another, a nude male model loiters about a massive, faceted stone object and a low table, the surface of which is a flat-screen TV monitor displaying video content by the Wall Street Journal. The model occasionally uses each for a bench, making use of a panel on the table’s frame that seems to be intended as a seat.
I consciously use the term “situation” because, in the first gallery, the dematerialization of the object is, as we will see, the crux of the work, and in the second gallery, the presence of the live model activates a highly theatrical mise en scène, in which it would be awkward to contemplate the “props” as art objects in their own right. This is in contrast to the third gallery in the exhibition, which presents a group of works, all “Untitled” (as the others in the exhibition are), that look something like the plastic bowels of a moped. Strung from the ceiling and rigged up to a compressor, they slowly extrude foam in scatological coils. This surreal aggregation, grotesquely anthropomorphic yet somehow serene, makes itself available for perceptual exploration in a way that the other installations do not.
Indeed, Hiorns’ “situations” appear opaque—at least in absence of further reading. The exhibition guide reveals the origin of the plane of grit to be a “passenger aircraft engine and granite altarpiece” that the artist melted down and atomized. Similar versions of the piece have, with this background information in view, deservedly earned praise as powerfully anxiety-inducing as well as elegiac gestures—acutely so in the context of exhibitions like September 11, which ran at MoMA PS1 in 2012. However, without such a compelling conceptual framework with which to interpret “Untitled 2” (its media, listed as “steel, flat screen, and youth,” are not so enlightening), I cannot but read the work in heavy, metonymic terms: the TV as technology, the boy as humanity, the Wall Street Journal as hegemonic power, the nude as vulnerable body—all rather hackneyed dichotomies of the day, made ready-to-hand by the exhibition’s press release.
Hiorns is perhaps best known for his 2008 piece, “Seizure,” in which he pumped an empty ground floor flat full of a copper sulphate solution, causing the interior to become coated from floor to ceiling in a deep blue crystalline growth. Such a work demonstrates not only a healthy penchant for the surreal, but also a sensitivity to the potential impact of processes that continue in the artist’s absence. The atomized aircraft piece achieves, or is at least capable of achieving, its own form of presence in absence. Yet Untitled 2 does something of the reverse. Its combination of readymade and theatrical components, provocative spectacle and wan social commentary, elbows out prolonged contemplation. It rings hollow, regrettably assuming the look of generic contemporary-art fare. Hiorns’ better works in this exhibition speak to art-historical traditions in more distinctive tongues—of techno-grit and foam, as it were. They offer something to behold.
Roger Hiorns runs through October 18 at Luhring Augustine.
Today from our friends at Artillery Magazine, we bring you John David O’Brien’s review of John Altoon’s retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. O’Brien notes, “…Altoon’s art lives up to any expectations a viewer might have for it.” This article was originally published on September 2, 2014.
John Altoon couples his relaxed, entirely convincing painterly hand with a flippant disregard for norms, whether social, societal, or artistic. His retrospective at LACMA cavorts, galumphs, and saunters through a wide variety of styles, approaches, and modes of image-making that astound for their vibrancy and their prescient lack of concern for modernist confines of working in a signature style.
Ranging from abstraction to figuration, Altoon seems equally at ease with either. This large but not overwhelming selection of painted and drawn works is taken from his fine-art practice, as well as some of his modified advertising boards, and delves into numerous of his outrageous sketches. This allows the viewer to circulate liberally through the ideas and images knitting together Altoon’s complex, variegated, and whimsical world. Adroitly arranged by curator Carol Eliel in a primarily chronological order, the different rooms concentrate on distinct portions of Altoon’s output and offer an implicit interpretative key to his participation in the artistic, historical, and societal chapters of his time.
Links between the quirky, erotic, and downright odd forms he colors and conjugates underscore his freshness and his singular interpretative axis. Occasionally seeming to echo other artists—biomorphic abstraction in the vein of Arshile Gorky or muscular, gestural slathering along the lines of Willem de Kooning—Altoon retains a strain of poetic reverie that keeps his works operating along their own lines. The color gamut runs from bold tertiary colors to unusual combinations of dark and light, often with the negative space etching forcefully into the composition. He dabbled with airbrush, mixed drawn-line and painted line, scrambled and splattered with abandon and a paradoxically deft sense of control.
The word commune, whether used as a noun or a verb, has complex connotations. From earnest Utopianism to grim, state-enforced collectivism; from familial relationships and networks to our connection with the natural world—all of these possible associations are present in the new show at Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery of Contemporary Chinese Art. From Judith Neilson’s impressive collection, curator Bonnie Hudson has selected works by twenty-three artists. They include representatives of the older generation that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s, characterized by transgressive experimentation and a merging of the local and global in their practice, through to young (in some cases, very young) artists whose work reflects their experiences growing up in the “new China.” Theirs is a world of chaotic energy, the newly globalised world into which Chinese people were catapulted by Deng Xiaoping’s socio-economic reforms, the transformative effects of which continue to convulse every aspect of Chinese life. As you might expect, an exhibition that explores this world has moments of both darkness and light. The artists examine the complex, shifting realities of contemporary China, including changing structures of family life, relationships between old and young, and the conflict between self-actualization and the collective past.
A series of paintings by Xia Xing embodies these paradoxes. The artist collects press photographs from the Beijing News, a mass daily with a circulation of 450,000. In 2007 he was working as a reporter at the paper and became fascinated with how it shaped public opinion and represented only selected aspects of daily life in a time of flux and change. Trained as an oil painter, Xia had found his subject. He began to paint the images he saw on the front page of the newspaper. For 2010, he reproduced one photograph for every day of the year, emulating the commercial printing process in a painstaking application of layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow. There is no caption, no headline; from the sixty closely cropped paintings shown here, we must guess what the images represent. Each alludes to a private joy, tragedy, or conflict that has been made—all too fleetingly—public. By preserving these ephemeral images, Xia Xing documents a particular time in China’s history, structured as a series of apparently unconnected fragments. We encounter the man whose hands were amputated by a criminal against whom he had given evidence, the parents of missing children, the forced demolitions and removal of people from their homes, the polluted rivers and lakes. We sense the artist’s horror at a never-ending catalog of disaster and anguish. The artist as witness—a continuing theme in China’s contemporary art.
Bai Yiluo’s Spring and Autumn 1 (2007) is juxtaposed with these paintings. A life-size tree with branches fashioned from old farming implements, with outstretched rakes, shovels, and pitchforks poignantly evoking the dependence on the seasons, the rhythms of nature, the times of planting and harvesting that dictate the lives of those who farm the land. One is also reminded of the obsession with rural agriculture of Mao’s revolutionaries: the ill-fated campaigns to eradicate the sparrows during the Great Leap Forward that caused enormous hunger and hardship; the rustication programs that sent urban “educated youth” to toil on communal farms and “learn from the peasants.” The work is very beautiful, and in its restrained use of weathered, rusted found objects, it is reminiscent of Ai Weiwei’s continued use of the “things” that evoke China, from ancient urns to three-legged stools and Qing Dynasty tables. Ai himself is represented by a pile of his porcelain sunflower seeds, that street snack shared among friends in hungry times in the past. These sunflower seeds have multiple meanings. They may be read as a comment on the ancient traditions of porcelain manufacture and its significance in trade with the West, or as a critique of mass production in China, “the world’s factory.” The realization that each seed, apparently identical, is actually different, reminds us of the weight of China’s population. The seeds also allude to Maoist iconography, which represented Mao as the sun, the Chinese people as sunflowers turning toward him. This is a subtle and clever acknowledgement of the tensions even today between individualism and collectivism.
Rural China is also represented by the youngest artists in the exhibition. Wang Cheng’s reconstructed pig sty, communal brick oven, and roadside shrine are built with Ming Dynasty bricks taken from the Great Wall. Salvaged by farmers over the years to build their own humble structures (especially during the Cultural Revolution’s “Smash the Four Olds” campaign, when everything considered “feudal” was fair game) they were purchased by the artist for his installation. He has installed them together with photographs of their original locations, a video, and a map. They represent the pillars of Chinese culture, says the artist, “community, animals, and God.” Gao Rong uses the traditions of Shaanxi embroidery taught to her by her mother and grandmother to make simulacra of the objects of her daily life in Beijing. She is represented here by The Static Eternity, a replica of her grandparent’s traditional home in Inner Mongolia. This simple house was the focus of Gao’s happy memories and longing for home when she left to study and work in the capital, part of “a generation adrift in Beijing.” Gao applies a painstaking traditional female domestic craft to create astonishing feats of trompe l’oeil. She replicates objects that have become or are about to become obsolete, in an effort to make us “look more closely at these things.” The work is an elegy to childhood, family, and a vanishing way of life.
The painter Chung Shun-Wen similarly pays homage to family with a series of gouache paintings of the patterned, faded fabrics of the clothes that her grandmother wore for decades. When this indomitable matriarch died at the age of ninety-seven, the artist began to paint remembered details of her clothing, including pockets, hems, and buttons. They are subtle, quiet works that require a willingness to look below the surface. Cleverly, like the Chinese painter Liang Yuanwei who has also painted fabric in closeup, they parody conventions of “all-over abstraction” and replace the field of the (mostly male) mid-century abstract painters with an entirely domestic surface, redolent of lived experience.
Wang Lei knits words. He takes newspapers, in this case the Oriental Daily, cuts out all the people’s faces, and mounts them onto long scrolls, a cascade of anonymous humanity. He then turns the dampened, discarded paper into yarn, knitting it into large, empty sacks. They are a little alarming, like something from a Grimm’s fairy tale. Previously he has used toilet paper to knit elaborately beautiful imperial robes, turning humble materials and the everyday into something rare and extraordinary. This alchemical approach to materials is another characteristic feature of contemporary Chinese art.
Chen Mingqiang’s Pictorial Study of Marriage Certificates in the New China was his doctoral dissertation. The artist collected hundreds of marriage certificates dating from 1949 to the present day, searching through flea markets and recycling centers to produce sixteen bound volumes of gorgeously illustrated documents that reveal changing attitudes to gender, love, and family through their iconography. Depending on the social circumstances and policy directions in the year of your marriage, you might end up with pictures of happy peasants and factory workers, a bumper harvest, or perhaps a Soviet-made tractor on the official record of your wedding. Marriage in the past was not a private affair, and hence the certificate recording the event was also a propaganda vehicle. The presentation of these “found objects” in a museum vitrine—like artifacts of a lost world—serves to underline the disjunction between past and present in China. Two such very different worlds. But it also reveals the way in which the past is always there, just out of sight, bubbling up from under the surface gloss and consumerist hustle of today’s world.
Perhaps the most compelling work in the exhibition is the highly cinematic Waltz by Zhu Jia, a slow, dreamy, and evocative video work presented on a single large screen. A pigtailed young woman and a young man, dressed in the drab Zhongshan suits of the past, dance awkwardly and stiffly to the martial rhythms of a revolutionary song, their bodies held deliberately away from each other. The settings change—a slow fade reveals the same young man preening in front of a mirror, dressed in the sharp Western fashions of 1930s Shanghai and waltzing with an imaginary partner. Time flips to the present, then runs backward, challenging our comfortable sense of narrative. The couple represent the artist’s parents and their courtship in days that seem to belong to another world. Zhu questions whether we can make sense of the past, with blurred transitions and soft fades alluding to the unreliability of memory. Trained as a painter, he works solely in video, making works that deal with time and the loss of innocence, reflecting on the impact of dramatic social and political change.
In the end, it seems to me, COMMUNE is all about memory. Public memory; revealed through newspapers, the printed word, marriage certificates, and official photographs. Private memory; the random, selective, and often blurred fragments of past connections and relationships. Both are immensely poignant, everywhere, but especially in the torrent of destruction and reconstruction that is China today.
Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
Recently I submitted work in response to a thematic juried call by a large, reputable, nationally known and respected arts organization [in my city]. It’s my habit to first inspect a jury as well as examine any theme, to ensure my work is a good potential match before shelling out submission fees. The sole juror was the director of the organization. My work fit the theme. None of my submissions were accepted, but over the years I’ve been regularly both accepted and rejected by various juries, and don’t take either outcome too personally. My rejection letter had said they’d received many hundreds of submissions.
But because I support this organization’s mission, have taken a class there, and have visited curated exhibitions there in the past, I went back later to see the accepted artists. I was stunned to see only eight; curious, I checked out the website of each and was even more stunned. Half were alums of the juror’s alma mater. Two of the eight had previously been artists-in-residence at this same organization, and exhibited there. All were artists [from my city]. Clearly, this juror could easily have curated such an exhibition. And seemingly already had. I feel duped. What they did appears fraudulent. I’m tempted to complain to their board and request they refund all submitting artists’ fees, but I suspect either the board already knew of or has since observed the facts I did, and is either powerless or is complicit. And the art world is so small. I’m torn between reluctance to stand by silently, and reluctance to have “making a stink” be the way my name becomes known in the professional art community. What are your thoughts?
I’m sorry you feel swindled, and I’m even sorrier to tell you that your righteous indignation, while perfectly understandable, is likely misdirected. Without a grasp of the finer points of this situation—including being able to talk to the curator or see the submissions—I’m left with guesswork, but experience and instinct lead me to believe that you should let this go.
Let’s look at your situation from the logical viewpoint: Bearing even that there were hundreds of submissions, no doubt at least half were eliminated for not adhering to the submission guidelines or not actually fitting the theme. (Artists often like to stretch the definition of a theme to include their own work, no matter the reality.) Probably half of what was left was not very good or interesting. Already, the vagaries of visual-arts jurying have narrowed the pool of submissions from hundreds to tens.
Following this, the juror put together a small selection of works from people he or she likely already knew. Is this fraudulent? No. Is it unimaginative and lazy? Certainly, but a label of fraud must by definition include deceit. I have a hard time imagining a juror who is also the director of a “reputed” arts organization setting out to swindle artists, especially at twenty-five or thirty dollars a pop.
At worst, this juror is guilty of risk avoidance. If you’ve ever sat on a jury, you’ll know that when you look at submissions, you get a lot more out of an artist’s documentation if you are already familiar with the work; it’s just a natural consequence of having a more detailed understanding of the artist’s intentions and execution. This juror may have felt more comfortable putting together a show of artists with whom he/she was familiar and, without necessarily meaning to bamboozle anyone, moved forward with an extremely conservative plan of action.
Is the situation unfair? Absolutely, and not just to you and the other rejected artists. This juror does him/herself—and the public—a disservice by not bringing artists outside your community to show in the space. Great things happen when we exchange ideas, and a strictly regional perspective is not always very engaging.
Should you make a stink? Yes, but not one that involves a board of directors. Ghandi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” so offer to curate a show at an arts organization that accepts curatorial proposals. Volunteer to sit on jury panels so that you understand what it’s like to be on the other side of a Slideroom application. Write and publish a manifesto on the responsibilities of jurors, and include the idea that an exhibition that results from a juried call should reflect the geographic makeup of the submissions, and not just the juror’s radius of familiarity. Research smart, ethical ways for artists to get their work in front of curators, and focus on ones that don’t involve fees. Take a hard look at your work and make it better every day. You already know that the art world isn’t a meritocracy, so get out in front of it in ways that don’t irritate your conscience. Good luck!