Last month a jury convened on the Anderson Dock in Ephraim. Instead of determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant, the jurors were selecting the artwork that makes up the Hardy Gallery’s 49th Annual Juried Exhibit. Of course, the art is not on trial. The only similarity this bears to a courtroom is that this jury is also made up of a group of the artists’ peers – other local artists.
This year’s jurors were watercolorists Ed Fenendael and Karsten Topelmann, photographer Paul Lurie, silversmith John Whitney, and sculptor and retired local art educator Robert Merline. They chose to include 62 of the 112 pieces submitted. The resulting exhibit features 62 different approaches to a successful work of art: a hooked rag rug, a variety of watercolors, paintings ranging from realistic to abstract and several steps in between, airbrush, ceramics, traditional and digital photography, and more.
In the art world, “judging” is a touchy subject. The appreciation of art is notoriously subjective, and not everything appeals to everyone (famous examples of this include abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, and pop artist Andy Warhol, though almost everyday gallery docents in Door County hear a visitor exclaim “My five-year-old could do that!”). In addition to this, the creative process is often deeply personal – many artists refer to their pieces as “their children.” So it is no wonder that in a tight-knit artistic community like Door County, there is plenty of potential for tension in a juried exhibit. Instead, the exhibit annually comes off without a hitch.
A unique feature of the Hardy’s juried show is that the artists must submit their work directly to the dock gallery for judging. Though “hand delivery” might seem a little archaic in light of modern technology, this makes the exhibit inherently regional. And, judging the actual piece is often an advantage to its maker. As juror John Whitney stated, “Seeing the texture is essential.” Traditional juried shows are often judged by watching sets of multiple images click by in a dark room. A lot can be missed in a slide: size, color, dimensionality. With the Hardy’s process, each piece is seen in real-life, in the gallery space where it will eventually be exhibited.
In fact, every piece submitted to the juried show was exhibited in the “Wall-to-Wall Salon.” For one week, the gallery was hung floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall with the artwork submitted for judging. This exhibit is a preamble to the annual juried show – a chance for everyone to see what the jurors are working with. Whether or not the work is ultimately accepted, the artist (and public) have a chance to see it hanging on the walls of this Ephraim institution. This was also the week when the People’s Choice Award was voted on.
The suggested standards by which the pieces were chosen are “craftsmanship, technical quality, and presentation,” but of course, each juror brings their own interpretation of this to the table. Fenendael gravitated to pieces in which he felt the artists were pushing themselves to try something outside their comfort zone. Topelmann based his choices on composition and craft. Lurie focused on “innovation in interpreting the subject.” Merline “sought work that challenged [his] perceptions and attempted to unlock a new place in [his] soul.” But John Whitney seemed to best summarize what the jurors look for every year: “[We wanted] a good show and some diversity…to choose pieces that push the artists, and to push the audience.”
When it comes to decision-making, the jurors must also struggle with their own preferences. What looks great to an oil painter may not appeal to a sculptor. The Hardy chooses jurors from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, so they can fill in each other’s knowledge gaps about materials and technique. A benefit of having five jurors is that artists are unlikely to cater their submission to a particular juror’s taste, as can happen with larger, single-juror shows.
Because the Door County art community is small, artists and gallery-goers grow familiar with the styles and themes of particular artists. Though this is great for many reasons, it makes it harder for a local juror. They must make an extra effort to remain impartial. Fenendael described the process as deliberately “ignoring that you recognize [the work of a particular artist] to focus on judging on what is there.”
One of the final challenges of a juried show is hanging it. Even though each piece has stood out as deserving on its own, this does not necessarily mean it will fit with the others. Short of alphabetizing by artist’s last name, there is no way to get around the fact that a wide variety of frames, sizes, and styles make creating a pleasing arrangement difficult. Fortunately, local artist Tom Seagard has a strong enough personality to muster the unruly chaos into line. Seagard has hung the juried exhibit for the last three years, with input and oversight from Elizabeth Meissner-Gigstead, the Hardy’s executive director, and the all-volunteer Gallery Auxiliary Committee.
Each year the Hardy Gallery’s Juried Exhibit reflects the “zeitgeist” of art in Door County. It’s the work of local artists – some old pros and some just starting out – hung in a simple barn gallery at the end of a dock.
In a court case, the end of the trial is the verdict. In a gallery, it’s the exhibition. Come judge for yourself.
The Hardy Gallery is a non-profit arts organization enriching the vibrancy of the Door County community by promoting and fostering local art. The gallery is located on Ephraim’s historic Anderson Dock and is open daily from mid-May through mid-October. For more information about the Hardy, please call 920.854.2210 or visit http://www.thehardy.org.
Ariel Pate was a Hardy Gallery intern eight years ago and is proud to return as staff for the summer.
Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.