Hanging juries

Constance Humphries

Constance Humphries made the cut at the Grace Centre’s juried show with Mute #28, a haunting piece in acrylic and charcoal on canvas.

Among artists, there’s no clear verdict on whether juried shows are a good idea or a spectacularly bad one. But visual-art patrons can begin to make up their minds about the method at two current shows created through the sometimes-quarrelsome process.

The Asheville Area Arts Council’s Weird, Wild and Wonderful and Grace Centre’s sixth annual juried exhibition both offer cash prizes, terrific local exposure and the opportunity to have one’s work reviewed by a first-rate artist. Still, many artists are asking whether competition — which inevitably requires a significant investment of time and money — is worthwhile, or even appropriate.

Entering a juried show can become an expensive proposition. The costs begin with the entry fee, which can range upward of $100, but usually hovers around the low double-digits. The Arts Council and Grace Centre both charged $25 for two submissions.

Some artists say entering a piece is tantamount to auditioning, and since actors and dancers and musicians don’t pay for tryouts, artists shouldn’t either. The collected fees are usually used to support the exhibition: They pay the juror’s stipend and underwrite the opening reception, announcement-card printing and gallery upkeep. In these two shows, The Arts Council and Grace Centre drew their prize monies from the pool of entry fees. Ironically, this means that if your work is rejected and that of your worst enemy gets in, your money has subsidized his entrance!

Other costs associated with entering a juried show include arranging to deliver an accepted work and traveling to pick up the piece after the exhibition has closed.

Asheville painter Linda Larsen says she didn’t mind paying an entry fee to compete in an out-of-state exhibit about the death penalty since the money went to an anti-death penalty organization. Although her submission wasn’t selected for the show, the organization posted all entries online. A curator of a much more prestigious show saw her work, and invited her to exhibit with nationally recognized artists.

Much to artists’ chagrin, the quality of jurors varies from show to show. A juror can be someone’s art-loving Aunt Sally or a seasoned professional with real knowledge and qualifications. It behooves the artist to know.

Kate Groff, a wire weaver based in Bakersville, won the $1,000 grand prize awarded at Weird, Wild and Wonderful. She was named winner by juror Carol Beth Icard, a Landrum painter whose Web site features an artist’s statement reading “As a young woman I wooed poetry and in my thirties and forties I crafted children’s gifts and then colorful baskets. But my heart longed for more meaningful creativity.”

Merrily Kerr will serve as juror for the show at Grace Centre. An art critic for Time Out New York, Kerr’s Web site offers “Merrily Kerr New York Art Tours: The Fastest Route to the World’s Finest Art.” She writes: “I constantly look for the freshest, most innovative art to talk and write about.”

It will be interesting to see the differences between the two exhibitions. Both jurors are from out of town, so we can assume that they will have no prior knowledge of the works, but their Web sites suggest they favor very different approaches.

Some jurors will walk into a room and immediately remove the things they know they won’t consider. Others linger over pieces that obviously have no merit. And then there’s always the possibility that even a good juror will have a bad day.

It’s hard for an artist not to take the rejection of his or her work personally, but if there are a large number of entries and limited display space, jurors might not be able to include everything that meets their usual criteria. Frequently, the one or two pieces an artist is allowed to enter would be much more impressive seen in context, but the juror cannot know this.

So is competition worthwhile? You decide.

Weird, Wild and Wonderful continues at the Asheville Area Arts Council, 11 Biltmore Ave., through Friday, Sept. 29. 258-0710. The Sixth Annual Fine Art Juried Show at Grace Centre, 495 Cardinal Road, Fletcher, opens Saturday, Sept. 30 and runs through Nov. 5. 684-0033.

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