Reflection: 28th Annual Juried Art Student Exhibition

I walk through The Landmark Arts Gallery daily on my way to class. However, one gallery is tucked away, with the request of “no food or drink.” I only pass through this one on occasion. This gallery feels clandestine, out of place. Normally, when I go through, I am impressed by shows there, like the traveling show of Cheech Marin’s collected small works, Chicanitas, or the recent Beyond Printmaking 4 exhibition, juried by Kevin Haas. Today, as I pass through the 28th Annual Juried Art Student Exhibition, I’m left feeling a little let down.

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The show, juried by the interim director of the Museum of Texas Tech,Tabitha Schmidt, had several exciting pieces, none of which won awards. The show on the whole looks clean, and appealing upon first glance. As I spend more time in the gallery, I start to notice some problems. First, let me say that I am pleased that the juror included posters, watercolors, and photographic works in the show. Many of these deserved inclusion. However, others had gaping, ill-fitting mats, or could easily be confused with the advertisement inserts in the Hobby Lobby photo frame section. I chock this up to including too many works, as well as a failure somewhere in the SoA pedagogy. Whether this is an oversight of the student or the instructor, I am unsure.

In the “general information” available online for the Undergraduate studies at the school of art, it says “All students in the BFA in Art with a field of specialization in Studio Art are required to participate in a group exhibition during the Spring semester of their final year.” Perhaps it would behoove educators to teach professional practice, preparing “hang-ready” work for the gallery, from the beginning, and throughout. After all, considering the display of work is an integral part of artistic practice,. I do not claim to know how to best prepare students for the “real world,” but I can safely say that several included works that look like they were freshly shuffled out of a flea-market clear baggie do not exactly speak to good craftsmanship. Let me be clear: I’m all for grunge aesthetics, when applied on purpose.

In her statement, Schmidt says “(her) approach consisted of a process of elimination with a focus on the elements and principles of design and originality. There was tremendous variety in medium, size, and content. In some cases, works struck (her) immediately; in others it was a gradual recognition.” Two works in particular were striking to me: Cracking Under Pressure by Amanda Lange, and Public/Private by Madison Manning. The first, an attention-grabbing, large, red and pink oil painting appears to have a Matisse-like blow-up doll, floating amongst beauty products. It is humorous, smart, graphic, and contemporary. Next, Public/Private, a floral blob of green and black construction fencing overtaking the southwest corner of the space, like an overgrown corsage. It fits the gallery well, and has a delicious palette, a familiar form gone awry in an appealing way. Had other pieces been left out, (it was an exhibition of 45 works) I think this could have been the best student show I’ve seen in awhile.

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Photos provided by Amanda Lange and Madison Manning

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