Curator Statement for Best of Gage, 2018
Nothing induces anxiety about one’s curatorial skills more than an invitation to jury the work of students engaged in art school. Realizing that one is making curatorial selections upon seeing only a single work by each student greatly increases any doubt about the curator’s legitimacy.
Having been a student in art classes at UW (class of 1980), I can well remember the importance placed upon being selected for such exhibitions. And the worry on the students’ parts about their own choices:
“Am I any good?”
“Did I choose my best work?”
“What will the curator be looking for?
“Will I be embarrassed if I don’t get selected but my classmates do?”
And then when I, as the juror/curator, arrive and am confronted with such a diverse group of work, I am forced to think “how do I make sense of all of this?”
And the concerned voice inside the head of the curator asks:
“What if that one piece is the only good one in their body of work?”
“What if my rejection of a piece causes doubt or remorse in the sensitive student’s mind?”
“Did I embarrass myself for choosing this instead of that?”
“Why does anyone even care what I think about their work?”
No singular thread seems apparent in this selection of work. I found much of the same multiplicity one finds in the larger, contemporary art arena.
One notable thing about this selection was there were none of the coolly made digital artworks one sees in other art schools. I’m glad to know that artists still get their hands dirty at Gage.
There were earnest pictorial and illustrative renderings. Glad to know the basics are still being taught…and learned. But there were also solidly academic works engaged in that curious disinclination toward information or emotion.
The singular skills of the drawers and renderers shine as the most cohesive group. But, one still has to ask whether skill and polish alone necessarily translate into any tangible quality as artworks any longer.
And when the jurying is complete the second set of concerns arises on the part of the students:
“Well, what the hell does he know, anyway?”
“How could he choose that junk over my fabulous creation?”
“Well, it’s lucky I listened to my inner voice about choosing that one!”
“I knew I should have entered that other piece!”
It is good to know that this group of students has continued the long tradition of putting their art out for others to see, to judge, to appreciate, and to find wondrous. That is the loveliness of this endeavor called art.
I want to call out the work, by Kathy Roseth, I listed as Best of Show and to which I gave First Award for Portrait. It’s titled “Mom and Coya in the Back Seat” and it’s a portrait of a lovely, elderly woman and a gentle looking dog.
For me this was the most memorable work of art in the show. It had emotional content. It was personal and it felt personally painted. Painting one’s mother is, perhaps, always a tough trick. I think of the portraits of Mom from painters as diverse as Rembrandt, J. M. Whistler, Arshile Gorky, Marisol, Sherry Markovitz, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and last, but certainly not least, the great nude portrait of “Birdie” by Larry Rivers. While other works in this selection of Gage students exhibited more academic skill at painting and rending, nothing else matched it for its extreme modesty of portrayal combined with its ability to grab hold of the viewer and ask to be looked at. Roseth’s straightforward composition directly engages the viewer and it delivers on that engagement with the heartfelt sense of confronting one’s past.