Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Come What MAY, Remember the Rest of the Best

 Come What MAY, Remember the Rest of the Best

By Tom Wachunas

EXHIBIT: 73rd Annual May Show, at the Little Art Gallery THROUGH MAY 30, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton / Gallery Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 1 to 5 p.m.

    I love the idea of juried art exhibitions. I hate the idea of juried art exhibitions. That’s the long and short of it. A love-hate affair.
    This is not to say that I love the idea only when my work is accepted for exhibition (as indeed it was for this particular show), and hate the idea when my work is rejected. Generally, I’m not strictly opposed to the notion of being “validated” or “accepted” by “art professionals” (jurors) even if they’re not practicing artists themselves. After all, there are still remnant criteria used today in assessing artistic excellence which were established centuries ago by “academicians” who never made a drawing, painting, print, or sculpture –  philosophers, historians, curators, and later, pesky critics.
    Like many artists, I can identify with those in the film industry who, standing in the shadows of the big winners at Oscar time, sincerely cite what an honor it was just to be nominated. Yes, it is an honor when qualified authorities and/or an artist’s accomplished peers deem his or her work worthy of public viewing.
    But designating prizes, especially the “Best in Show,” can be particularly problematic if not plain silly. Art exhibit as dog show. Last year the Beagle got top honors. I hope the Poodle gets it this year. Sheesh.
    It’s not as if there exists a magic formula or universally accepted canon of standards for determining the last word on aesthetic superiority. Such awards are necessarily declarations of opinions (albeit educated ones, one would hope) – a decidedly subjective exercise – on the part of the jurors. That said, I heartily congratulate all this year’s awardees.
    Relative to other May Shows of the past several years, this one, with works by 47 Stark County artists, is largely a bit on the tepid side. Most of the pieces that garnered prizes seem to exemplify the jurors’ conservative leanings toward traditional subjects. Case in point: Best In Show honors went to Lee Ann Novotny for her pristinely rendered colored pencil still-life, Nice Jugs. Verynice” indeed, but…
    There are other more electrifying entries, highly commendable in their respective media. Ted Lawson’s 30 Rock II (First Place in Watercolor) is among the finest I’ve seen in his series of New York Cityscapes. It’s a glowing, spectacularly fluid night scene and, whether intentionally or not, a vaguely topical reminder of the urban confrontations between police and public so prevalent these days.
     There’s a palpable charm and intimacy about Bruce Humbert’s oil, Joy in the Garden, bathed in diffuse light. And it’s a light dramatically sharpened in the bold watercolor just above it on the wall, Spring Light by Jerry Zelinskas.   
   Eleanor Kuder’s mixed media Butterfly Jar is at once an elegant and frenetic abstraction. Its intricate, meandering organic markings are a compelling counterbalance to the simpler, more muscular and tactile lyricism of Tina Meyers’ Bonsai (Second Place in Acrylic). The appearance of these works adjacent to each other, as with the aforementioned Humbert-Zelinskas combination, points to curator Elizabeth Blakemore’s astute placements of diverse content throughout the exhibit. Look carefully and you’ll sense unity – sometimes subtle, sometimes clearly defined. It might be from piece to piece, or one grouping of works to another, sharing subject matter, or palette, or concept, or combinations thereof. 
    Whatever you do when viewing the exhibit, please DON’T be like the four individuals who entered the gallery during my recent visit. I love watching people watch art. This particular group was on a mission, with a rigid agenda to spot only those pieces that had the colored tags of award winners next to them - the “bests.”  Ignoring all the other works, they were gone in 15 minutes.
   I’m sure I speak for all of the exhibitors here when I say…I hate it when that happens.

    PHOTOS (from top): Welcome to Dementia, acrylic on clear acrylic, by John B. Alexander; Joy in the Garden, oil, by Bruce Humbert; Butterfly Jar, mixed media, by Eleanor Kuder; 30 Rock II, watercolor, by Ted Lawson; Nice Jugs, colored pencil, by Lee Ann Novotny          

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