Juried shows inevitably instigate anxiety among artists. In order to enter, they must select art they hope will resonate with jurors whose taste they do not know. For exhibitions juried from digital images, like the MAG Museum show, artists must photograph their art so that the colors, composition, and textual characteristics are conveyed clearly despite each image being viewed on a computer monitor. Whether the artwork is six inches or six feet tall, durable or ephemeral, the artist has only a digital image or two with which to impress the judge. No wonder that artists complain jurors “just don’t get it.”
On the other hand, jurors have nothing but that tiny image and the title, date, dimensions, and material on which to base their decisions. Juried shows guard the anonymity of the artist so that decisions are based on the art, not the artist. Most jurors are adept at considering the visual and factual information and then imagining how the art will look in a gallery. Still, they often profess surprise when they see the art in person. “It has a greater presence than I expected.” “That frame really enhances the craftsmanship of the relief sculpture.” “The digital image did not convey the character of the brushstrokes.” Consequently, exhibitions juried from images often ask the juror to award prizes upon inspection of the art in the gallery, as is the case with the MAG Museum show.
Jurors are picked to serve because of their broad experience with art, and perhaps because of their familiarity with the type of art featured in the exhibition (contemporary art in the case of the MAG Museum show), but also because they do not reside in the same community as the artists and thus can bring an independent, and arguably unbiased, eye to the selection process. The juror for this exhibition is Tom Butler, who recently retired from a long career as director of the Columbus (GA) Museum of Art. In his statement for the catalog, he says:
As for my selection process, what were my criteria? …the high quality of the artist’s jpgs was critical. Medium, color, scale, texture, and my personal emotional reactions were the essential things I considered…but I also realize that I may have missed some subtleties that are only evident in the actual artwork. However, for four decades I have been looking at slides, transparencies, and now jpgs, so I have come to trust myself in this kind of decision-making process. Whether the work of art selected was based in observations of reality or an abstract composition, the most important factor to me was how honest the artwork was to its own identity.
Butler ultimately selected fewer than a hundred items by 74 artists from the 427 items entered by 127 artists, 38 of whom were first-time entrants. The high percentage of first-time entrants is probably attributable to a new $500 award for first-timers given by the 2014 Junior Executive Board of the Museum in order to encourage emerging artists to participate. It worked. 27 of those first-timers were selected.
That award and 23 others totaling more than $22,000 will be selected by Butler once the art is delivered to the Museum on June 5. Those awards will be announced at the opening reception on Friday, June 12. The party starts at 5:30 with the awards announcement commencing around 6:30.
Once the ceremony is done, listen carefully to the artists in the crowd. Inevitably, from some you’ll be sure to hear, “that juror just didn’t get it.”
Michael W. Panhorst, Ph.D.
Curator of Art, MMFA