Thank you to our jury team of Amze Emmons, R.L. Tillman, and Jason Urban for the wonderfully thorough jurors’ statement—an essay about juried shows in general, and a nod to the talented women and men who entered our call for entries and who made our exhibition a beautiful success. Please read on for the full statement.
The juried art exhibition, as it currently exists, is largely informed by the 19th century European tradition in which an institution appointed an expert to judge and rank the quality of artists’ submissions from within a relatively close geographic range of that institution. The resulting exhibition would be open to the public and reviewed in the local press thereby allowing the “common people” access to cultural production previously reserved for the aristocracy. A byproduct of this model for new talent was exposure to new audiences and patronage. While informed by modern democratic ideals, (as well as proto-media sensationalism), these affairs were famously political and often more supportive of the status quo than progress.
The oldest North American juried print shows date back to the early part of twentieth century, a pre-academic heyday of many print clubs and guilds in the United States. In the hundred years since, printmaking has been embraced and proliferated by the University art school model and the juried printmaking exhibition has become a mainstay of the printmaking community. Sometimes celebrated, sometimes lamented, as an exhibition format it occupies a unique niche. Debate aside; it’s a place where many young printmakers get their start, (ourselves included to varying degrees). Given this, when we agreed to jury INK!, it surprised even ourselves to learn that Printeresting had never juried an exhibition.
On the other hand, we have curated many exhibitions. Typically, our curatorial process is expansive and rigorous, beginning with an inquiry that develops into a concrete conceptual framework for an exhibition. To properly represent our subject, we review our informal “database” of art and artists, consider the relevant practical restraints, and stage the best possible representation of our ideas. In our various curatorial projects, we have focused on printed ephemera, historical appropriation, and ‘zine culture, among other subjects.
The end result of curating and jurying is the same: an exhibition. But the two processes are quite different, and this difference is worth exploring. When curating, we start from a position of inquiry and then move to a selection process looking at a limitless array of possible artists, which can be an overwhelming task. In contrast, when jurying, we look at set pool of applicants from the position of expertise, which can be a considerable constraint. In this case we each reviewed the submitted work alone, trying to channel our curiosity and experience into something like expertise. There was no need for the negotiation and conversation that often foreground our curatorial process. Refreshingly, we relied on simple mathematical averaging to synthesize our individual judgments. Like the curatorial process, the jurying process yielded surprising and rewarding results. As a group, we are very happy with both the quality and range of art in the final exhibition (even if some of our individual favorites were not included).
Unlike our 19th Century predecessors, we live in an age where expert approval is only sometimes valued. There are fewer gatekeepers in a world of Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Anyone with a smartphone can share their artwork with an audience. In this context, there is much about the juried show structure that shows its age. Which leads us to an obvious question: what role does the juried exhibition serve? Two answers come to mind, based on our seven years of navigating the digital/analog divide at Printeresting. First, when all things are available online all the time, it becomes nearly impossible to differentiate between signal and noise; an extrinsic expert can offer some focus in a sea of equally valuable information. Second, there is always value to be found when a group of artists and their audience comes together as a community to look and talk about art. The latter is very hard to approximate on social media. For this reason, we are sorry we will not be in attendance for the opening reception. We thank all the exhibiting artists, and all those who applied for the opportunity to review your work. It was a rewarding experience.
Amze Emmons, RL Tillman, and Jason Urban
March 23, 2015