Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stark County Artists Exhibition 2014

Mother and Child: Forgotten
Housekeeping first, full disclosure, I have a piece in the show. It is a photograph. I have lamented in the past that this show should consider separating photo and digital works from other media to create two shows. If anyone had listened to me, I would not be in the show. Crow is so delicious this time of year.

Second bit of housekeeping, a reminder that this blog is my opinion and in no way a formal or solicited review of the show, or any show, I happen to write about. Considering my low number of blog views, I needn't worry that anyone will really find this essay anyway.

Third bit of housekeeping, I have to mention the renovations done at the MassMu. The place looks fresh and modern and more fitting for a museum of their caliber! Nice job whoever worked on that project.  Painting the walls a dark grey in the main exhibition space was a great choice though I wonder if it was done specifically for the works in this show or just by luck of the cycle of exhibitions. Why? Because the overall selected works, the show as a whole, appears at first impression to be chosen to enhance the walls so the space is cohesive and mellow. Thank goodness there is no papier mache or bubble wrap this time! But so too is there no “wow” in the room. No one seemed drawn to any particular work or corner or space on opening night.  It was all just “there”.

If I were new to the area and walked into the Museum, glancing into the main gallery, I would think I am seeing a permanent collection room. This year’s show is….let me read my notes….bland, overly cohesive, flat and repetitive. And I have not even walked very far into the room. I see lots of red-orange, teal, cream and black and white art on the walls. Let me repeat…on the walls.  Besides one free standing table on the upper level with some small figurative pieces, the space is empty. The one and only in –the-round sculpture is tucked into a corner along with a dimensional paper installation. Perhaps that is how the artist wanted it seen. As viewers, we are not given that information. Only one other piece (hung on a wall) besides these two offers any interesting shadow play. The majority of the work is approximately the same size with the largest in the room being the best in show. The show feels sparse due the 20 or so less works accepted in this year. I miss the use of middle space.  I miss color! No greens, hot pinks, purples, metallics…..just very (dare I say…matchy matchy?). Even the ceramics are for the most part hung on the wall. Margene May has the one and only entry in the fibers arena.

In recent shows around the area, I have noticed a trend in how pieces are being submitted for jury. When only one work is allowed to be entered, some artists are grouping their works into “one” unit and classifying them as a diptych or a triptych or something even greater than that-tych, hung as a group of separate (and even separately signed---dead giveaway)  pieces to be judged as one work. This allows the artist to get more work in front of the public and perhaps more weight to the jury. (Not done in this show.) The second trend I see is the exact opposite, to separate pieces which should really be considered as one unit. The weight of the individual creations as a statement is far greater when seen as “one” work then as several solitary ones. By submitting all of them as singles, the number of pieces that may get accepted is far greater and weights heavier on the CV of the artist. Which leads to a third and perhaps a rhetorical or ethical or just plain confusing question. I will try and ask it as simply as possible….but it does come across as one of those dreaded story problems of our youth so please bear with me….

Artist A has three pieces in the show. Artist B has two in the show. Artists C – Z have only one each. Logic would dictate that works A1, A2 and A3 are equally as excellent with each other and superior to a C2 or a C3 and so forth for C – Z.  So too would logic then be that A2 and A3 as well as B2 should all win an award because none would be worse than C1, D1, E1 and down the line. Yet….C1 and D1 also win an award. Therefore, C1 and D1 are better (by the juror’s own opinion) than A2 and A3. So why add them to the show when they are not really “as good”? Any number of reasons could be provided…I will let you come up with them. I am just asking the question for consideration. I am not saying I agree or disagree with any choices, just wondering as to why fill the room with pieces by the same artist rather than works by others. All the award winners this year have multiple works accepted, four of the six having all three entries juried in. Interpret that as you wish. One cannot tell me that some very talented and gifted artists were not included because they had not one thing to submit. (I know, I hear the whispers.) Why the overall cohesion of visual and physical aspects of the show? Yes, we are dealing with a group jury situation so each one gets to weigh in and outweigh as they desire, which allows for the inevitable clunker or two to slip past, and there are a few this time around….again.  At least a clunker can be differentiated. Some of the pieces look so much alike from the doorway that one cannot tell they are by different people. Why is that?  Is originality and creativity starting to wane as more and more access to the imagery of others dilutes the process? Was it this elusive specter of visual unity dominating the selection process? Again, I don’t have answers. I don’t offer any either, although I have theories and opinions (as do some of you who stage whisper).  Perhaps Herr Professor, modern art really does suck.

I do want to mention a few pieces in particular. “Waves” by Lindsey Bryan, a paper work constructed into a corner, is a contemporary twist on a classic Japanese woodblock print. I found it clever and creative. The scotch tape however did detract from the overall piece and I was not sure why it was used. The spotlights bounced off of the tape and called my attention away from the intricate cuts of the paper. Michael Barath’s “Phoenix”, a digital double exposure of visual mastery was overlooked yet again. His was the only piece that really reached out from across room, requiring a closer look at the complex edges and forms contained within the format.  

But yes, my photograph is included, thank you for that. I can see why my other two entries would not have made it past a first round. I was pleased to see new works and styles by unfamiliar names (to me anyway), good to keep the talent pool fresh and growing. (Bullach, Bryan, Wadsworth, Stoddard) I was pleased to see familiar names with something new to show, good to keep the talent pool stocked and reproducing.  (Kribbs, Wachunas, Waalkes, Bogdan) The smaller number of pieces included did make for a less crowded exhibition space and perhaps a bit more “professional” in appearance, but this is Ohio. This is Stark County. This is one of only a few shows in the area where we compete against each other exclusively. It forces us to keep working, to try new things, to see what each other is doing and who is “better” this time. This is football country with a sports crazy mentality that lives and breathes competition. This is “our” big game.  This is where we see what each other has done in the off season.  Some major shows will accept only one piece by any artist no matter how many are submitted. It will be your best of those entries. Not filler, not matchy-matchy, not whatever, which leads to a level playing field of choices as to who makes the playoffs and who goes back on the bench until next year. If none of them make the cut, then we work harder. We try again year after year after year to be on the field. Sometimes we get picked for the game and sometimes we just go home, but nobody in the neighborhood is happy when one kid’s siblings all get to play and they can’t even catch the ball.

Congratulations to the winners for sure. A polar bear is kicking butt in tiger town in this dog eat dog business we are in. Hmmm….that sentence had three “in”s in it…I bet that violates some grammatical rule somewhere.

So overall, it is a “nice” show. Not a “wow” though. It feels serene rather than energizing.  not one to cause pause and wonder how something was done. Are there some standout pieces in my opinion, absolutely, but a really great show is downstairs in Studio M.  


  1. Wow! This looks like a redacted CIA document. Which makes the flow of reading it a bit bumpy. But, a couple of quick thoughts.
    1) I thoroughly disagree about separating photo and digital works from the other work. They are simply different mediums. No one medium is superior to another. An artist may be superior...but, not a medium. (Full disclosure: I am a digital photographer and digital artist with one piece in this show).
    2) I've been entering this show for 13 years now. It has been my feeling that those artists whose work is good enough to have all 3 pieces accepted should lead to those artists winning something other than an honorable mention. After all, if the 3 pieces are looked at as being that strong, why not? Should an artist who places only 1 piece win a 1st, 2nd or 3rd? If one's other 2 pieces are rejected couldn't it be said that you "got lucky" with the 3rd one?
    3) From the beginning, I have been led by each year's results to wonder about the chosen show. How can different judges each year continually seem to pick loosely equivalent shows? I would love to see the rejected pieces once and compare. Some of the accepted work each year seems, to me, to be below a bar that should be set higher.