The Art World has a long tradition of holding juried art shows to fund independent, alternative and non-profit galleries. Juried shows are the gateway to many an art career, but carry the stigma of leaving many artists high and dry, paying for the privilege of being rejected.
I was invited to jury the 23rd annual juried show for the Contemporary Art Center in Las Vegas. Filmmaker Eric Minh Swenson has made what I believe to be the first documentary of jurying an exhibit of contemporary art. He accompanied me on the journeys involved -- first, the arduous task of reviewing the submissions. Six hundred fourteen artworks were submitted for my perusal, and then to celebrate the exhibit in Sin City itself. Volunteers and staff at the CAC explained to me that this the largest number of submissions that they had received in memory. Many attributed this to the high profile that the Huffington Post has delivered for my writing. For all the guff this site gets for not compensating writers, my status has expanded here, a fact not lost over five free nights at the El Cortez Hotel, one of the show's sponsors.
There were many artworks submitted that were within the parameters of the well-made, conceptually rigorous artwork that art schools have long taught students to create. In looking through the submissions, though, I saw great pictures that did not conform to the art magazine flavor of the month but were epic combinations of talent and imagination nonetheless. I had to go rogue and reward originality and independence over pleasant half-step improvements on mainstream art world art. The resulting show was thus a departure for the CAC, but a welcome one. Of the 46 artists chosen, almost half were residents of the Las Vegas area. Of them, none had ever shown at the CAC. I was thanked profusely for bringing plenty of "new blood" into the organization.
Swenson's documentary The Hung Juror parallels the relationship of artists and curators with that of gamblers and casinos. Please enjoy this extensive look into what goes into and comes out of jurying an art exhibit.
My Juror's Statement for the exhibit:
LET ART RIDE The best thing about jurying a show for an exhibit in Las Vegas is knowing everyone involved understands concepts like "winner take all"and "let it ride" and "big gamble". Nobody holds your hand at a craps table and nobody does in the art world, either. But when you win at either, the prize is yours alone, the guy next to you doesn't get the dice until you are done and no critic ever gets his name on a painting's wall placard in a museum.
If you were to show up to Las Vegas for the first time and be met with a hard luck story of someone who had gambled away his or her last dollar, the sympathy you showed would soon reveal itself as the soul of a sucker. There is no way for me as a critic (and here especially as a juror) to ameliorate rejecting an artist for a show other than to insist the cold art wold out there has plenty more in store for them. Once you lay the bet down, call it math -- odds -- lady luck -- fortuna... in the art world call it taste -- an eye -- educated opinion -- enthusiasm... there is no reason you were selected that could ever come close to the guts you had to make the bet in the first place, to have entered the juried show at all.
There were good submissions to this show that I took out in consideration of having the art I felt was wildest, passionately most extreme and as well-executed without being like anything else I had really ever seen. I held no prejudice against any medium or conceptual device. That the works were viewed JPEGs and not viewed in person may have favored some people -- the tradition of juried shows and jammed slide projectors has never favored perfect solutions. Art itself is a celebration of the imperfect, just as a seven is the best roll except when it ends the roll you were on.
The methodology as I stared at hundreds and hundreds of artworks to arrive at these was less like following the north star and more like picking the right table - intuition with a little pleasurable retinal intercourse. The jaded mind's eye is the only enemy in art. Glamour is the only sin. With these two rules I critique and curate with all the hope that ignoring trends of the year and flavors of the month will allow. I'm not naive enough to think that seeing any artwork or curation will change your life but I put together art shows to defy those who assert that they cannot. The CAC handed me the dice and bet on my number. The big difference is that you, seeing this show, will call the roll instead of invisible fate and green tablefelt; maybe that is the final combined truth and beauty of art, as a viewer, it is your call which to call your favorite.
Thanks to the CAC for betting on me. If the regional metaphors in this essay were too much, I can only apologize for being too thrilled with the art scene blossoming in my favorite city in the world to write a stuffy essay about the experience. Please enjoy the show.
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