Controversy and Lots of 2-D
Mayor’s Art Show tries something new, with mixed responses
by Suzi Steffen
|Release, by Janice LaVerne Baker
|Mom & Dad and the Blessing of a Painful Disease, by Suzanne Ponsioen
The weirdest thing about the Mayor’s Art Show arises from a void. That empty space, the carpet all bare, in the center of the Jacobs Gallery speaks (negative) volumes about one artist, at least, whose work usually stands right there where all the people at the opening could suddenly fit without panic attacks.
In 2008, I wrote, “A Mayor’s Art Show wouldn’t be a Mayor’s Art Show without a wildly colorful, society-critiquing piece by John ‘Teach’ Girard.” Oops. That day has come to pass. So: The Celebration moved up a weekend or two, surprising many people, including Jacobs Gallery director Beverly Soasey. The submission process previously involved the artists bringing their work, leaving it for several days while the jurors looked at it and then having to come pick it up at certain times if the work didn’t make it into the show. To speed up the process, this year artists had to — or got to, if you’re of a particular frame of mind, probably especially if you’re a photographer or painter — submit digital images of their work, along with a digital application and a digitally delivered payment of the application fee.
We first heard angry discussion about this at an arts meetup in late July, not too long before the submission deadline arrived. Some artists said they didn’t have digital images of their work; some said they didn’t have the application fee (and suggested, smartly, that the Eugene Weekly sponsor all submissions for an hour or a day – I promise to look into that for next year); some said they didn’t have the online expertise to submit that way. On Facebook and in person, artists told me that they felt like the submission fee was excessive, and they didn’t feel like they could take good photos or that their work didn’t photograph well. One of those artists was Jill Mardin, whose piece in MECCA’s “Object Afterlife” exhibit is a favorite of mine. I can imagine that Mardin’s delicate and dark piece, for instance, would not photograph well.
On the positive side, the process took a lot less juror time — something the jurors and many others mentioned during the opening reception. On the negative side, a couple hundred fewer artists submitted their work. What will happen next year? The date for the Celebration has been set already, so both the Jacobs and local artists have time to figure out what to do.
Meanwhile, surrounding that Girard and other sculpture-spaced void, the selected works hang, or sit in the case of the two (Yes! Two!) guitars, one called Mosaic Spanish Guitar, an honorable mention, by Bill Allord; one Charles “Rick” Kneale’s shiny and lovely handmade electric guitar.
The Mayor’s Choice work, Aeon Now/Muse Art by Erin Kathleen Bucklew, contains some of the only political content in the show, and that’s quite mild. Another award-winner, Stuart Henderson’s Estuary, also offers a bit of what might be political, if you care about the planet’s water system, but it’s formally lovely too.
Some of the photographs, as usual, stand out: Daniel Moret’s full cathedral treatment of Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia; Stephanie Ames’ remarkable, playful but serious patterns and light in Music Alone Shall Live. The latter, black and white and stunning, hangs down the wall from Diane Story Cunningham’s arresting Erratic, a wholly underpriced (and quickly sold: You got a ridiculous bargain, buyer!) pottery/ceramic piece. The work’s tiny and referential, gesturing to bones, shells, labia, all that’s folded in and layered.
Two rather disparate paintings pleased my eye greatly: Joel Haffner’s quietly competent, small, otherworldly (one thinks of Jane Austen’s Lyme Regis, or the windswept Dover Beach of Matthew Arnold) Oregon Coast, and Janice LaVerne Baker’s bright, fun breath of contemporary fresh air, Release.
What’s missing from the scene — or, despite the artists’ protestation, does the process need to be fixed? The R-G’s Bob Keefer (himself an artist) wrote on his blog, “There is no substitute for looking at actual art — even if every other juried show in the universe also substitutes computer images for seeing the real thing.”
Anyone who’s been through an art history class and then gone to see a favorite work can tell you that flat images of a physical object pale (sometimes literally) in comparison, and of course New Zone’s “Salon des Refusés” depends on Mayor’s Art Show-rejected artists bringing their work to a new showcase. Meanwhile, drop by the Jacobs and see the results of this year’s process.
The Mayor’s Art Show runs through Oct. 16