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Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts on Jurors and Guest Curators

There's a lot of talk recently on some of the blogs and message lists I belong to about jurors and reviews. Well, maybe in the greater scheme of things not much, but enough to get my brain cells going.  In addition, Terry Jarrard -Dimond (who I always want to call Terry Jaquard-Dimond) asked about blogs which review shows and such and then discussed what attributes a good reviewer has.  You can see the 2nd of her two posts  http://studio24-7.blogspot.com/2011/07/where-are-writers-part-two.html

Hmm.  Ok. so I meet most of Terry's criteria.  As a former museum curator, I have a minor in art history and lots of courses in connoisseurship  (yes, Graham Hood taught the course at William and Mary).  I go to art shows and museums when I can (lately not as much but that's just this year).  I have a strong background in historical quilts as well as having been a traditional quilter since I was 12 and and art quilter since the 1990s.  I'd like to think I can write...
I do fall down in one area.  Often the shows I'm reviewing I am doing so so that people who are in other parts of the country can see where their quilts have ended up...and sometimes I am just too tender-hearted to leave out the quilts that I don't think should be there.  Sometimes, I  highlight quilts not so much for their design or skill in construction, but  as I am curious.  For instance, how did a Marianist brother come to make a quilt? 

Needless to say, Terry's blog sort of made me want to crawl back into a hole...However, I'd like to share with you some observations on jurors and guest curators...Vivien Zepf got me thinking about this in her review of the 2011 Quilt National Catalog.  In it, she discusses Pauline Verbeek-Cowart's statement.  Verbeek-Cowart was a juror for this year's Quilt National.  Vivien described her as a weaver, which really made me wonder.   What's a weaver doing as a juror for Quilt National?  It seemed a little out of the ordinary until I looked at her portfolio on her website.  She IS a weaver, but some of her pieces aren't what you'd think of as a weaver necessarily...she's an art weaver...if that is a term...but more especially a fiber artist.

Pauline stated that she came to Quilt National with a preconceived notion of what Quilt National was about....a notion which while we all tend to hold it, is not stated in the call for entries.   Pauline, and for that matter I, thought that Quilt National was supposed to be a cutting edge show.  It isn't.  At least not by the description of appropriateness as put out by QN.   Submittals merely have to be quilts, as defined by the traditional definiation (at least 3 layers of fiber held together by stitching some of which can be seen on the back side.)

As artists, we know when we submit to a show that the predilections of the jurors is something to bear in mind.  This year, Jonathan Holstein was the juror for a show entitled The Art Quilt Experience in Cazenovia , NY.  I haven't actually seen the show, but know about it from reading Katherine Rushforth's review.  In her review, Ms. Rushforth makes the following statement:

" The pieces are split evenly between the two venues and provide a slightly narrow, but engaging cross-section of what's happening in the world of contemporary fine-art quilts. I say narrow because those who have visited the Schweinfurth show know that contemporary quilters are no longer content with fabric as their sole medium. Found objects, transfer printing, beading, text and other non-traditional media find their ways into their sewing kits. Their work is predicated upon ideas versus established patterns and while technique matters, it is not limited to their skills with a needle and thread. "

From what I can tell, it does seem slightly narrow to me as well...but not for the same reasons that Ms. Rushforth states.  While I believe that a show entitled "The Art Quilt Experience" should show a full spectrum of the types of art quilts which are being made, Mr. Holstein chose predominantly non-representational pieces, mostly ones which were geometrically based.  However, given the fact that Mr. Holstein was the lead juror and that he was the co-curator of the 1971 exhibition "Abstract Design in American Quilts" at the Whitney Museum, this doesn't surprise me.  I have to say when I'm looking into submitting to a juried show, I do look at who the jurors are and what they do before deciding to submit...rightly or wrongly.  I slso know that if you submit a piece to a show and don't get in, it doesn't necessarily mean that the piece doesn't have merit, but it may be that the piece doesn't fit in with the juror's vision, the space allowed, or with the rest of the pieces selected for the show.  There's always another venue and another show.

So, how do galleries and museums select jurors? It depends.  Some look for the "big names."  They want people to be jurors who have a certain cachet in order to bring high quality pieces in as well as give "star power" to the exhibition.  Sometimes it depends on who is available at the particular time.   Sometimes, it comes down to a matter of money...jurors of high caliber shows are paid for their time.  Often the institution is looking for someone who has a certain perspective which fits into their own mission statement or the direction they want the show to take.

The matter of paying jurors and getting high cailber jurors is what helps a show to grow and be a moving force.  One show that I sometimes exhibit in locally started out being a show which had some pull.  In the early years, they used local people but when one of the founders of the show felt that they needed to pay more and go farther afield the host organization balked and caused a split.  For the last several years the jurors have been the same.  Something I'm not too thrilled with, but they continue to attract artists with national recognition and it is a good, solid little show.  

Other shows are "juried" in that they only have to fit the parameters of the theme.  If you don't fit the theme then you don't get in.  Another show I participated in this year called itself "juried" but never named the jurors and while it charged a $25 fee, apparently was juried only by whether or not you wrote a check...I doubt I'll show there again.

The amount of involvement that jurors or guest curators play also varies.  Several years ago, I was working free-lance for a museum evaluating their collection of historical quilts.  I researched their pieces, wrote the catalog and made suggestions as to what pieces I would put on exhibition.  The show was to be curated by a quilter who lived in the area but who had a national reputation.  I met with the director and the guest curator after submitting my report.  Imagine my surprise when my suggestions were taken without question and the label copy was written by taking verbatim the information from my report.  The guest curator's name was on the exhibition and I hung the show with the museum staff.  

In two other cases, the guest curators were running into time constraints and the curators of the institution called me in to help get things on track time-wise.  The curators were still calling the shots, but I was acting as a gopher, technical whiz kid and general facilitator.  The curator's stamp was all over these exhibitions, I just helped move it along so that it could open on the opening date.

Recently, while visiting a show with some friends, we wondered, why was it that some people had three pieces exhibited and others, while they submitted others of equal quality only had one accepted.  We'll never know as usually juror's don't share their rationale.  We just know that the artist just needs to keep on submitting those pieces to other shows.   

3 comments:

Pam Geisel - For Quilts Sake said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject. I really enjoyed the Quilt National show but it seemed like there were several quilts in the show that seemed very similar (similar techniques, arrangements, etc.)

Nancy said...

Quilt National traditionally uses 3 jurors: two from the art quilt world, one from the art world with some fiber experience either as an artist or as a curator. So a weaver fits this second category.

Enjoyed the posting.
Nancy

Michigoose said...

Thanks Nancy, that's some insight I didn't have. Like I said, at first I thought "Weaver? HUH???" until I went to her website, then I understood.

Thanks for your comment Pam. I'm awaiting my copy of the catalog (I was going to buy it there, but since there's been so much talk about the show, I decided I needed to get a copy ahead of time and see what the buzz is) and I am going on Aug. 3 or Aug. 4 as I'll be in Athens for my daughter's orientation. So...I'm waiting with great anticipation!
Lisa