2014-01-03 / Front Page

Juried Show Preparations Under Way

By Theresa Hillman

Painter and NAM teacher Peter Dickison has been installing shows at the museum for 7 years. (Photo by Theresa Hillman) Painter and NAM teacher Peter Dickison has been installing shows at the museum for 7 years. (Photo by Theresa Hillman) The Newport Art Museum’s Annual Members Juried Exhibition does not open until Feb. 8, but the activity level at the museum is already ramping up. The museum hosts 16 changing exhibitions each year but this is the only juried show – and it draws major attention. Over 300 entries are expected, with close to one-third chosen for showing. The New England member artists’ original artwork will be selected and judged for awards by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Contemporary Art curator Dominic Molon.

This is a regional show and most artists who have shown here are from Rhode Island. That being said, “I don’t think there is any specific kind of Rhode Island art. There are a lot of vibrant, contemporary eclectic artists working here,” says Nancy Whipple Grinnell, curator of the museum. “A lot of people tend to think that Newport art is just seascapes and lovely landscapes and historic buildings.” Most local galleries sell traditional art to tourists. “Edgy and dark doesn’t really go too far around here. We have had a number of contemporary galleries, in my 15 years here, that have opened and closed.” She points out that what the museum presents is based on its educational mission to focus on both the historic and contemporary art and artists of our region.

The popular exhibition is not without a bit of controversy, however. Artists and art lovers often have strong feelings about juried shows, and this is no exception.

Valerie DeBrule from the DeBlois Gallery says that a lot of people are against juried shows. While she has entered many, some at her cooperative gallery are adamant that staying true to their nonprofit means remaining open to the community. Art Museum Curator Grinnell believes it is different for the museum. They do not sell artwork and their open wet paint show is their fundraiser. “You couldn’t possibly do a non-juried (annual) show every year. Professional artists would not want to show if it were a non-juried exhibit. The quality of the show would diminish in just a few years.” She explains that they do try to shake things up from time to time. For the centennial, “we let everything that was submitted in; we hung from floor to ceiling in both galleries. We had three jurors come in and each of them made awards on their own.”

The art that people will see at the exhibit has a lot to do with what the juror believes will create a cohesive show. Peter Dickison, of the museum’s education department, says that many artists do their homework to learn about the juror in hopes of increasing their chances of selection. Grinnell explains that this year’s juror is extremely qualified and that his Midwest roots eliminate the political problems that often come from perceived local biases. While many artists will ponder the fact that Molon recently curated a show that featured experimental examples of rock music, Grinnell warns that speculating on judge’s preferences is often counterproductive.

Associate curator Tara Ecenarro describes the juried show as a roller coaster ride for the artist. She says that the most difficult part is handing the work back to those who weren’t selected. Most experienced artists understand the process. “Then there are those people who get really upset about it, and they don’t understand why their work didn’t get in; they got in last year or they won an award last year, or they’ve been in three years in a row. It’s hard to answer that because I find myself handing work back to people thinking, ‘Oh, this was my favorite; I love this piece.’” Dickison adds, “We used to joke about that: ‘Have all your favorites been yanked out yet?’”

Artist Susan Shaw of Spring Bull Gallery says, “Art is such a personal extension of someone’s emotion and ideas on things that many people do take it as a personal rejection. You have got to thicken up your skin; you have to know it’s subjective.”

For Ecenarro, the exhibition procedure is fascinating. “I love watching the process of the jurors’ work; they all work differently. A lot of times a juror will pick up a piece and look at it for a few minutes to contemplate the work; that is a really nice thing to see.”

Grinnell has just published a book on the museum’s founder called, “Carrying the Torch: Maud Howe Elliott and the American Renaissance.” “A hundred years ago the founders of this institution thought that art should be beautiful, generally speaking, and a lot of people, like my 92-year-old mother, still think that. But, I don’t think the art world, as it exists today, has much use for art that is simply beautiful.” She adds, “I’d like to think people get enlightened when they come and look at the art, but I don’t think a piece of art has to enlighten you. It’s nice if it moves you and makes you appreciate something more.”

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