Blog Topic: Jurying process

Rebecca Stevens, On Being A Juror

Friday, February 9th, 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.

Barbara Burns

 

Galley view from the 2016 exhibition Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora. The George Washington University.

Galley view from the 2016 exhibition Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora In the foreground: Sara P. Rockinger, This Land, 2011. Photo credit William Atkins / The George Washington University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Susan Else, Crossing Points, 2015.

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.

Sandra E. Lauterbach, Wailing Wall of Krakow, 2014

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.

Masked Muse, Jon Eric Riis

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.

Nebo Lavrencik, Mogadishu, 2012

 

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.

Penny Mateer, The Past as Road to Tomorrow, 2015

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

 

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.

Jane Sauer on Jurying Exhibits

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Sauer on the subject of being a juror. She shared her experience and insights into the jurying process, as well as sharing advice for participating in juried shows.

Barbara Burns

 

What is the jurying  process like? Is it different when you are the only juror, as opposed to working with others in a group jury?

I have always found the jury process painful. Many times there are a number of qualified applicants and I worry about making judgements dependent on a few images. I know I make mistakes and am concerned that a rejection might have an adverse effect on someone’s career. I like some aspects of being the sole juror. I like the control of the outcome that this brings. On the other hand I do like hearing or seeing the judgements of the other jurors. Many times that can open my eyes to something new. Other times I have a hard time seeing what they see. It is a matter of compromise.

Do you believe that there are basic mistakes that artists make when submitting their entries? Could you describe a few of these that you’ve encountered?

The most consistent and harmful aspect of preparing an application for a juried show is the photography. I sometimes think the artist must not review their submission before hitting SEND. Any juror can only judge what they can see. Cell phone pictures are the enemy of the artist. They are so easy to come by and yet are rarely high quality. If you are going to use a cell phone image, make sure you have a proper environment and lighting. I highly recommend a professional photographer.

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?

An international show does present some challenges. If an international juror, you must make an effort to understand the culture in which the applicants live. This is not always easy and readily available. I am always concerned that I am looking at work through the lens of my cultural background only.

Have you juried a show where you regret having agreed to the job of making selections? Could you give an example?

I agreed to jury a show that ended up having over 3,000 entries. I deeply regretted accepting this job. I could not scan through all the applicants and then go back and make decisions, which is my usual routine. I like to scan once or twice and then carefully eliminate in several rounds until I have the right number of acceptances. I felt like this was a nightmare process. I had to start making decisions on the first pass through. Fortunately the sponsoring organization realized that this was not a fair process and changed the approach by breaking down the process into smaller units each with its own set of jurors.

Have you juried a show that you felt was exceptional? Can you describe what factors enabled you to accomplish that? 

I have juried several shows that I thought were exceptional. They were exceptional because the applicants were of high quality and submitted images that were easy to read. The images are the gold in a jury process.

Do you have advice for artists who wish to establish a career making their art? Do you think juried shows offer good opportunities for artists?

Being in juried shows is an excellent way to have your work seen and acknowledged. With the closing of many small and large galleries, juried shows are becoming more competitive than ever. A new phenomenon is Exhibits in Print. This is an even better way to get your work seen by a larger audience.

 Is there a time in an artist’s career when juried shows are no longer advantageous?

Many established artists will not submit to a jury process. They don’t want to be judged and don’t want to exhibit with less mature artists. I think the most essential ingredients to developing a  career in the arts is to have a web site with good images, background information and clear contact information. Again images are the key to a good web site. When I am curating an exhibit, if I can’t locate the artist, I usually just move on to the next artist I can locate. Unfortunately, there are many more exceptional artists than places to exhibit. An artist has to make it easy to make contact and see the latest work.

What do you think of the jurying process? Is there a better way to organize a show?

I think the jury process has improved tremendously with any of the many excellent computer sites that allow you to jury slowly and in parts. The price of putting together a skilled group of jurors is also considerably lower since the organization doesn’t have to bring jurors together. I think we need both juried shows and curated shows. They do different things and each is valid.

Do you have any advice for a first time juror?

I think about balance when jurying. I like to represent the totality of what is going on and not lean too heavily on one aspect because it is my personal favorite. I am always happy to see new ideas when I look at images and will try to bring those into the exhibit if the work is valid.

In some cases there must be pieces that you see as excellent in many ways but you cannot accept them into the show. 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? Do outliers get accepted and why?

Behind the scenes behavior varies a lot. Sometimes jurors can’t agree and a piece I am deeply committed to is eliminated. Frequently there is a negotiation process if there are several jurors. Jurors can trade one elimination for an acceptance which can eliminate what one juror thinks is a great piece. I have had to eliminate work that just didn’t fit into the mission of the show even if the piece was excellent. I also have had to eliminate pieces that were too large for the exhibition space or would just suck all the air out of the exhibit.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am saddened by the closure of so many galleries. I know this is resulting in many exceptional artists giving up and moving to other professions. It takes tremendous dedication to be an artist or to own a gallery. If you want to work regular hours or make a good living, try something else for a career. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other but have to tell others this is not an easy road and the near future doesn’t look any better, and maybe worse, for the arts with government cut backs. I think the expression, “I didn’t choose ART, it chose me,” is still operable. Most artists I know would find this statement true. Fiber artists have an even harder path because of the prejudice against textiles in general.

Suggestions

  • If you have the option to send various views or details, be sure to send a full component of images. If you have good images, the more information you can give the juror, the better chance you have of being accepted. Usually one object doesn’t represent you as well as the full component allowed. A juror wants to see what you are creating and a single piece can make the juror feel that you might have hit it lucky once but the rest of the work might be weaker.
  • Always review what you are sending on a full computer screen and not on a cell phone. Look at how all the images look together.
  • Be self critical and try to think how the juror will think. Even if you don’t get in a particular show, it might be good for a certain juror to see you work. I have rejected someone from a juried exhibit but felt that their work fit with a show I was curating.
  • Before spending money on an entry fee, make sure what you are submitting fits within the show prospectus.
  • Read all the directions and follow them carefully, especially the dates. If you are accepted, follow all the rules and don’t think you can be the exception.
  • Put all dates on your calendar.
  • When preparing your work for shipping, remember that the work will be shipped two times.
  • All shipping materials should be new and able to withstand two shipments.
  • Act like the person unpacking the shipment and repacking has an IQ of 30. Write out clear and concise directions for repacking and tape to the inside of your box.
  • Put your name on shipping materials so there can be no mistake about which are your materials. Many times inexperienced packers are responsible for the return of work

Jane Sauer

 

Jane Sauer was a fiber artist for over 25 years before owning Jane Sauer Gallery. She has work in over 20 museums, has received two National Endowment for the Arts Grants, in addition to other grants. Jane is part of the Archives of American Arts Smithsonian Institute and has served on many art related boards including serving as Chair of the American Craft Council. Ms Sauer has spent her entire life making art and has spent her adult life supporting the arts and artists. She says, “I guess this is what makes me a qualified juror.”