Rebecca Stevens, On Being A Juror
by Barbara Burns on February 9, 2018
Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Research Associate, Contemporary Textiles at The Textile Museum, was kind enough to be interviewed about her experience as a juror. Rebecca shares her thoughts on being a juror. She explains some of the pitfalls entrants may slip into, and talks about the jurying decision process, giving clarification to why artwork may not be accepted into a show.
As a juror what is the decision process like? Is it different when you are the only juror, as opposed to working with others on a group jury?
Like all jurors I draw heavily on my background in the field, and carefully look at each piece. Thereafter the decision process of jurying is straightforward. It involves a careful assessment of whether each piece meets the criteria of the call for entry and then a determination of which pieces are the best.
When I am the only juror I feel more responsible for making the best choices because I am the sole decider. When I am just one of the jury I engage in conversations with other jurors during the decision making process and the outcome is a collective decision. This enables me to draw on greater looking experience and the opportunity to be reminded of aspects of the works that I might have over looked.
Do you believe there are basic mistakes that artists make when submitting their entries? Could you describe a few that you’ve encountered?
In my recent experience basic mistakes are fewer than in the past. Artists now realize the importance of good photography. Poor photography was the main problem when I first began to jury. Unfortunately, another critical mistake continues to occur. An artist sometimes submits more than one artwork and the works are greatly dissimilar in concept and aesthetic thereby indicating that the artist has not developed his or her own voice.
What kind of guidelines would help you make selections in an international (or regional?) juried show? Does an international show present a different set of challenges for a juror?
Guidelines in the call for entry should be clearly stated. All images should be properly labeled with size, and top and bottom indicated in order for the juror to fairly evaluate the artwork. Remember that all images appear the same size whether they are projected on a screen or viewed on a computer monitor. The challenge for a juror is to take all aspects of a work into consideration in selecting the best artworks for an exhibition. This is the same whether for a local, national, or international show.
Have you juried a show that you felt was exceptional? Can you describe what factors enabled you to accomplish that?
Two exhibitions that stand out in my mind are Karpit I and Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora. These were exceptional exhibitions for quite different reasons, but the common thread was the care and attention the organizers gave to each exhibition.
Karpit I was an international tapestry exhibition hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary. It was an exciting opportunity for the artists and the Museum. I was honored to be on the international jury panel. There were a large number of excellent entries because there had not been an international tapestry show at this museum before and because artists were especially keen to exhibit in this prestigious Museum where tapestry was being treated as an art form on the same level as fine paintings and sculptures. Both the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists and the Museum staff worked diligently to conceive of this exhibition and to bring it to fruition. The artists were not identified during the selection process to insure that there would be no bias in favor of artists known to the jury. This blind selection process was a relatively new concept in Hungary.
Stories of Migration was exceptional because it was an extremely timely subject presented from a variety of points of view. This exhibition was a successful collaboration between the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and the Studio Art Quilt Associates, an international organization. The selection was limited to members of the Association and six invited artists. However, it was possible to join the Association in order to qualify for entry if the artist was not already a member. The call for entry was issued one year before the jurying began, thereby allowing artists to create new pieces addressing the migration theme, if they so wished. Entries could be two or three dimensional pieces or even be multi component installation works. This broad scope resulted in a rich and diverse variety of art work.
Have you juried a show where you regret having agreed to the job of making selections? Could you give an example?
I have never regretted jurying an exhibition, although some exhibitions have been more interesting because the quality of the work submitted was especially high. Each exhibition has always been an opportunity to see new work and existing work in a new context.
In some cases there must be pieces that you see as excellent in many ways and you cannot accept into the show being organized. Can you shed any light on what happens behind the scenes? Do you argue for inclusion based on its qualities or do you question the parameters set for the show?
The first task of a juror is to include in the exhibition only the pieces that come within the parameters of the call for entry. It is neither fair nor appropriate to change the terms of the call for entry after the fact to fit in a really good piece that is not responsive to the call. If a juror questions the parameters of the exhibition then that juror should not have agreed to be a juror for that exhibition. This is a threshold decision each prospective juror must make.
Should “outlier” or little known artists be included in a juried exhibition?
Each artwork should be judged on its own merits regardless of who created it. There is no “outlier” if the works are submitted to the jury anonymously.
Are juried shows a good option for emerging artists?
Juried shows are generally a good option for artists who want to establish a career. Acceptance into an exhibition allows the public to see the artist’s work judged on its merits against other art works. Artists should carefully choose the exhibitions to which they submit work. They should look for shows organized by established groups and/or institutions. Prestigious juried shows are always advantageous, e.g., juried shows at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum or the ATA Biennials.
Is the jury process the best way to organize a show?
There are two major types of art exhibitions, juried exhibitions and curated exhibitions. In a juried show the jurors need to follow the parameters of the call for entry and be fully independent of the sponsoring organizations. Even if one of the organizers’ favorite artists is not selected the, jury’s choices should nevertheless be cheerfully accepted. Juried shows allow the jurors to see the work of a broad range of artists, some of whom will probably be unknown to the jury prior to that exhibition. In a curated exhibition the curator has control over the theme and the artworks. The theme can then be focused on one artist , a group of artists, a technique or an historical or timely topic. There is a place for both types of exhibitions. Each has something different to add to the art world conversation.
Rebecca Stevens has an undergraduate degree in art history/studio art (B.A.) and a graduate degree in studio art (M.F.A.). Stevens’ art focus changed from painting and print making in 1969 when she saw a traveling version of the Lausanne Biennial. Rebecca was fascinated by this “new” art form – fiber art – and has devoted her professional life to that subject. She became a juror because she was invited to serve.