MassMu Déjà vu
By Tom Wachunas
So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye / There ain't no good guy / there ain't no bad guy / There's only you and me / and we just disagree. – song lyrics by Dave Mason
EXHIBIT: Annual Stark County Artists Exhibition, at Massillon Museum, THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2016 / 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon / Jurors: Mark Masuoka, Executive Director and CEO of the Akron Art Museum; Frank Oriti, visual artist from Cleveland, Ohio; Shari Wilkins, Founder and Director at the Cleveland Print Room www.massillonmuseum.org
(Full disclosure - I do have a piece in this year’s exhibit. I wrote about it in April, at http://artwach.blogspot.com/2016/04/from-deep-inside.htm)
In this postmodern era, there’s no universal standard by which to measure and declare an artwork’s indisputable excellence (much to the dismay, I’m sure, of some academic traditionalists). And regardless of a juror’s credentials, the process of determining relative levels of aesthetic quality is in the end a complex and mostly subjective one, fraught with subtle biases, including multiple definitions of art. The practice has become needlessly imperious and even a bit silly. Why can’t we simply have “jurors” as guest curators who choose the entrants to be exhibited and leave it at that? This is after all an art show, not a horse race. The designations of win-place-show certainly mean something unarguable in the sport of kings, but they have little if any truly meaningful function in the context of group art exhibitions. [excerpt from last year’s ARTWACH post - Dec. 19, 2015]
I said it last year regarding this annual exhibition (and for that matter, any exhibit with a hierarchy of awards, beginning with ‘Best in Show’) and I’m saying it again this year. So call me a whiner if you will. I still think that to designate a single work as ‘best’ (or second or third) - in an array as impressively diverse in media, style, content, and techniques as this one is – is to imply that all the other un-awarded works are relatively inferior achievements. It’s an ultimately meaningless competition paradigm suggesting, perhaps, that jurors are unassailable umpires of aesthetic excellence. They’re not. And I would certainly think they’re sensitive and intelligent enough to realize as much.
That said, I can’t tell you why, in any objective sense, Daniel McLaughlin’s oil on canvas piece - a somewhat flaccid grisaille study of a vacuum cleaner called Hoover Concept 2 (Best in Show) - merited a $300 award over, say, Brian Robinson’s magnificent pastel landscape, Resting Soil, or Diane Belfiglio’s equally beautiful oil pastel, Going Deeper II, neither work garnering an award. What exactly makes Michael Weiss’s surreal digital manipulations in his The Island more deserving of a money prize (in this case, $100 for Third Place) than Karen Bogdan’s spectacular fabric work, Summer Flower Garden, or Pamela Glover Wadsworth’s arresting mixed media abstract painting, Being Rorschach? Does the fact that both of these women were awarded a (piddling?) Honorable Mention mean that their works are somehow less-than, not-quite-so, or lacking-in…what?
Nor can I tell you why Spencer Molnar’s acrylic and oil Two-Faced - at once goofy and ghoulish - received Second Place honors over such un-awarded accomplishments as William Bogdan’s haunting and poetic woodcut, The Chess Player, David Kuntzman’s dazzling grids in Newton, or the serene simplicity of Kelly Rae’s mixed media painting, Refuge.
I guess all this grousing makes me a back-seat juror. Enough already. Besides, it’s not the jury I mean to skewer here, but rather the paradigm or system they’ve been asked to enter. With no indisputable rubric for discerning what’s good, better, or best, the system itself is an arbitrary one and, in the end, merely an unpredictable exercise of opinions, albeit presumably educated ones.
I don’t think there are too many Stark County artists who are naïve enough enter a local juried exhibit with the singular desire to win cash, even though it’s fun (and for a lucky few, useful) to embellish a resumé with accumulated accolades. The fact of the matter is that, given Stark County’s pitiable dearth of suitably large, established gallery spaces, most local artists regard opportunities such as this annual event at Massillon Museum simply as a motivation to keep their work in the public eye, however marginal in these parts that may be. The most valid, meaningful award any artist can reasonably hope for is any viewer’s genuinely willful attention to the work at hand.
So here’s my heartfelt thanks to all of you who bestow as much on this exhibit.
PHOTOS, from top: Childhood, by Daniel McLaughlin; Being Rorschach, by Pamela Glover Wadsworth; Summer Flower Garden, by Karen Bogdan; Refuge, by Kelly Rae; The Chess Player, by William Bogdan; Going Deeper II, by Diane Belfiglio; Newton, by David Kuntzman