This past weekend, I had the opportunity to assist with the jurying of Lawndale Art Center’s annual Big Show. I have volunteered for this event for the last three years, and it has become a cherished annual ritual for me. When I arrived on Saturday, the galleries were filled with nearly a thousand artworks submitted by Houston area artists. Our job as volunteers was to carefully hold works by each artist in front of the juror and then move the art to sections of the gallery marked for pick-up, “maybe,” or for the lucky few “yes.”
I thrive on high doses of art, such as art fairs or biennials, where you look at art from dusk to dawn. But the process of sorting through the Big Show entries stands out from these other experiences because at Lawndale you get a truly diverse sample of art being made in this time and place. One of my curator-heroes Walter Hopps said that curators should be like zoologists and focus on observation, noting all the various sorts of art being made in any given region or era. The Big Show is a rare opportunity to do just that, sample a cross-section of the Houston niche, and see how artists are adapting to a changing city year to year.
Simply the process of going through so much art in a weekend is invigorating for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the sheer outpouring of creativity is inspiring. It amazes me that there are so many artists in this area and so much artwork being made. By the end of the long day of sorting through art, even I wanted to start making artwork again. (But I will probably abstain. I have never been able to move past making poor imitations of artists that I love.) Second, you come to understand that selections of artwork for the final exhibition are based on the personal taste of the juror as much as anything else. Each juror has spent their career looking at art and developing their eye, and each creates a totally unique show. To all the artists out there—do not be discouraged if your artwork does not make it into the Big Show. Next year’s juror will have a different take and may connect with what you are making.
The way each of us responds to an artwork is as intuitive as it is based on knowledge or expertise. Looking at nearly a thousand works of art during the jurying process taught me as much about myself and my own intuitions as it did about the artworks. I tend to be drawn to work with an immediate visual impact and a distinctive tactile quality, but I have seen other jurors who prefer more ephemeral work put together a great Big Show. Working on the Big Show year after year makes you appreciate the diversity of jurors as much as the variety of artists. It is especially gratifying when artists chosen for the Big Show find gallery representation or be chosen for solo exhibitions elsewhere in the city. The Big Show continues to give many artists their first opportunity, and that is why the Lawndale staff and volunteers put in so much energy and such long hours to make it happen. I am honored to help them out. This year’s Big Show, curated by Marco Antonini, opens Friday July 13.