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Friday, March 13, 2015

Adirondack Artists’ Guild's 17th Annual Juried Art Competition

BEST IN SHOW: Elaine Vollherbst - Highway 28N Long Lake
Last weekend I had the privilege of driving up to Saranac Lake to judge the Adirondack Artists’ Guild’s 17th Annual Juried Art Competition. When I arrived, the Guild’s gallery - a pleasant, functional storefront on Main Street - was crammed with 185 entries in all media. My job was to trim these submissions to about 75 for the show, and to choose prizes to be awarded at the show’s opening reception: Best in Show (which carries with it the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the gallery in November); 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes; and five Honorable Mentions. Needless to say, it was a daunting task.

A view of the AAG gallery
Here’s a first-person account:
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the quantity (and overall quality) of the entries, I first sought to get my bearings. My hosts were three members of the Guild, a cooperative business whose 15 or so joint owners share the effort, expense, and rewards of such an enterprise, and they were graciously helpful throughout the process. They remained quietly alert as I worked my way around the room two or three times, occasionally answering questions I had as to certain relevant details. At this point, I had not yet begun to cut.

FIRST PRIZE: Shawn Halpern - Blue Cedar Vessel
The entrants were limited to three pieces each (maximum), and in many cases it was easy to tell which two or three belonged to the same artist – but not always. It also wasn’t always easy to tell the medium (and, I am embarrassed to admit, one pair of photographs had me fooled to the very end, when I was told they were not, in fact, amazingly detailed paintings). So my helpers provided clarification where needed.

The show drew a great variety of media, including most craft media (such as clay, glass, fiber and wood), jewelry, sculpture, mixed-media constructions, and two-dimensional paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs. I decided I must aim to maintain the diversity of the submissions in my final selections, as this was clearly the spirit of the show, and I delighted in keeping an open mind as to the intention of the artists.

SECOND PRIZE: Susan Hoffer - Connecting to the Protest
While I made judgments based on my own ideas about quality in art (including technical skill) and allowed my personal biases (or taste, if you will) to influence some decisions, I also tried to be receptive to the various styles and concepts that would motivate the artists. Slowly, I began to clarify which work was surely in and some that was surely out. Post-It notes helped streamline this process, and the helpers began to carry the work that I eliminated out of the room.

HM: Richard Nowicki - Lake Placid Outlet
I’m comfortable with all art media and have curated or written about all media for many years, so that was not an issue for me. However, one issue that did arise is that the Adirondacks region is very different from a city (even a small city like Albany, where I live), so I was confronted with a lot of unfamiliar rural and wilderness subject matter, including a good number of paintings, photos, and other media that depicted wildlife. To me this is a subgenre of art with its own set of rules – rules I may not be privy to – but I tried to give it the best consideration I could. After about an hour, I had picked about 40 things I knew I wanted to stay, and had cut an equal amount, leaving maybe 100 others in limbo.

HM: Lynn Taylor - Lake Lilies
Many artists entering a show like this take up certain strategies. For example, some may try to second-guess the juror and submit work that is calculated to appeal to that juror’s taste. Others will try a variety of styles or subjects to increase the chance of hitting something that the juror likes. But these attempts to outwit the juror are tactical errors, because they often fail to represent the artist’s best work or communicate the artist’s personal vision.

HM: Anastasia Osolin - Look
When I judge a show (or write criticism), I am looking for an individual style and a commitment to a personal vision that clearly communicates who the artist is and what they are passionate about. I seek to understand the artist – in his or her own terms – and then decide how successful that effort is. At this point, it became necessary to move things around, so I could see each artist’s work grouped together (the original hanging was totally random and many artists’ pieces were separated). Now the show was beginning to take on a shape, and I could more easily include and exclude more pieces.

HM: Steve Auger - Winter barn
I was trying to find the innate strengths in the work now, more than I tried to decide what I “liked best.” There was a simple but elegant clay bowl; a starkly illustrated woodland scene of an owl with its raccoon prey; a couple of quirky cartoonish drawings in glittery frames; and lots more. Many photographs were submitted - not because I am known as a photographer - but (I was told) because there are a lot of photos submitted every year. So I chose to include many good photographs of different kinds. There wasn’t a lot of non-representational work submitted, but the best of that I opted to include (paintings and fiber art, primarily). And there were many very well executed landscape paintings, including a couple of nearly abstract ones that reminded me of John Sloan; I chose those as well.

HM: Cris Winters - Arc of the Day
Deciding the prizes was a tough challenge that gave me serious doubts, but which ended up being very satisfying. The final cuts always hurt, and some excluded work perhaps deserved to be included, but I feel very comfortable that the best work submitted to this competition is the work that has received the prizes. I think that work displayed the strengths I describe above, as well as representing great skill – whether high or low – in carrying out the artist’s personal vision. Usually, this came across via two or three pieces that worked together as a body, though there were instances of a single piece that was so well realized in itself that I had no doubt about its meaning. Most of the prize-winning work is reproduced here, so you can decide for yourself if you agree or not.

Congratulations to all the artists who submitted work, and many thanks to the AAG for asking me to be their judge this year.

The opening reception for the Adirondack Artists’ Guild’s 17th Annual Juried Art Competition is today (March 13) from 5-7 p.m., with awards to be announced at 6; the show will hang through April 12.

THIRD PRIZE: Phil Gallos - America the Beautiful #17

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm sure you were a great juror.