The Big Sleep

by Sebastien Boncy August 8, 2012

Lawndale, I ain’t mad at ya.  I love the opportunity that is your residency program, your open submission process is truly open and makes possible a dizzyingly diverse range of shows, you’re not afraid of straight up painting, or straight up anything for that matter. Please understand that what follows is about the Big Show and only the Big Show, it’s no kind of oblique attack at anything else you do.

I’ve been in town for about 15 years now, and I don’t make it to every Big Show, but I’ve attended quite a few. I’m done now. I was done with the effort of submitting a while ago, but now I’m done with the idea of participating at any level.  You ain’t right Big Show. Nothing about you makes any sense.

The submission fee is thirty dollars. Thirty bones ain’t no joke. That’s a college bachelor’s weekly shopping trip. That’s 2 used games. That’s a bunch of Brandon Graham comics.  That’s Channel Orange and Write Me Back delivered to your door.  That’s treating your significant to a delicious Tex-Mex dinner. If thirty bones ain’t nothing to you then contact me, I know some Haitian orphans that could use your help (for real). For the rest of us, thirty bones is insane paper to be throwing at the slight chance that our work will get into a bad show. I can’t even call that gambling.

From go, the logistics of the submission process close a whole bunch of doors. The work needs to be “ready to install” which means that if one’s work tends to be site specific, or super delicate, or if it’s from the pushpins through paper school of hanging, it’s probably not going to fly. One has to find the time to drive the physical object(s), whether it is a framed 8×10”, or a 900 lbs bronze, to the Lawndale during a small window in the work week. And those that get rejected (most of the applicants) have to take more time off work to schlep their rejected asses back to the Lawndale and get their stuff. What’s the matter Big Show? You into schadenfreude? It’s not a friendly process, and considering the fee and the results it’s just too much to ask.

The curatorial process can only lead to one giant whatev. Last week, a friend asked me why I believed that the best the show could hope for was “poor”. I let her answer for me; I asked her what was the minimum prep time that she needed for any of the shows she puts together. Five months, she told me. A couple of days is not enough time for some outsider to comb through hundreds of pieces by absolute strangers and come up with something that makes sense, flows well, and engages the audience in any significant way.  It takes me longer to pick the menu for a dinner party, and I only cook beans. You have to be bad Big Show, it’s in your genes, it’s in the shape of your bones, you can’t help it.

The prize money is the ultimate insult, it’s amateurish.  Are we talking about a coherent body of strong pieces that evince some sort of connective tissue? The unavoidable competitive aspect is supposed to be over by the time all of the pieces are selected. That extra bit of separation between winners and losers destroys the idea of a show as a single strong unit and relegates all losers to filler status.  Big Show, you seem to forget that high school isn’t a viable model for anything.  Find a way to compensate everyone.

We need more traditions in this town, it’s good glue for this community we want to see thrive. The Big Show has long been one of those traditions, and it’s easy to get sentimental about it. But it’s a bad religion, it doesn’t love the artists back. The Big Show says “Y’all don’t matter much, but y’all should be thankful much.” So I say back, “So long BS.”


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Jehovah Witness August 9, 2012 - 02:07

Sebastian Boncy first you should just shut up. Second you should ask for your money back from the grad school that let you graduate. Your writing and your perspective sucks. Who cares if they don’t like your work, your critique about their show should not be about how your work or your hopes fare to theirs. You lose. Lawndale doesn’t.

josh chrisman August 9, 2012 - 16:12

We also need another web source for TX art. All I read about on here are the writer’s friend’s crappy projects, or whining about any and everything. Can’t lie, it is very entertaining from time to time.

Annonymous August 11, 2012 - 10:20

You can’t expect Lawndale to reinvent the wheel, all jurried shows fit your description, it’s a gamble and an investment with little or no return. However, it’s a place for many people to start. Looking for cohesian in a jurried show that lacks any themed framework is silly. Your frustrations are arbitrary, quit polluting glass tire with what you may think is good and clever criticism. Your complaining has informed no one.

Sebastien Boncy August 11, 2012 - 17:41

Annonymous, doesn’t “little to no return” kinda imply that it’s a pretty shitty place to start? For anyone? If you’re an artist, I think I love you more than you love yourself.

jim hatchett August 12, 2012 - 10:01

LITTLE KNOWN FACTS: The Art Car Museum, Houston (in it’s 14th year of operation)is really a fine arts museum that happens to show a few cars that have been altered artisticlly.We do an “open call” show every year. The fee? Zero, thats right, there is no fee, nada. The Juror ? There isn’t one, because there is no judging. Thats right, the first 125 artists to show up are in the show no matter what. We have as many folks at our openings as Lawndale, it’s packed. Our shows are up for 3 months instead of one, and this is where we put Lawndale in the shade: we average over 1000 visitors a month consistantly. Do the math, over 3000 folks see your work. The best news, it’s coming up in a few weeks! Delivery of work is Sept. 8th. We have 2 facebook pages: Art Car and Art Car Museum, all info is on both pages and also on our website

Sebastien Boncy August 12, 2012 - 11:47

Jim, that show makes sense. I’ll be there on opening night.

Rusty August 12, 2012 - 12:06

Sebastien, I sympathize with your sentiment, however the art world can be a very shitty place. There are thousands of people struggling to call themselves artists. So the system doesn’t need to make things easy on beginners, and it doesn’t get any easier on mature artists. If you want your work to be what it is, then you need to learn ways to still make your work “come in on time” even if it’s more expensive and fragile than your peers’ work. If your work stands out for being site specific or anything else, then that’s a blessing and a curse… you might need to continue to find ways to exhibit your difficult but sought after work for many decades. Non-profits, galleries, etc. sometimes help make things happen, but many times you will have to rise to the challenge yourself. You need perspective… hang in there and you’ll get it. Either you learn to deal with your art, or you can continue to blame others that things aren’t fair.

Hampton August 12, 2012 - 12:44

Juried shows always seem to me to be an extension of the academic experience, a means to continue to receive some direct critique and perhaps acknowledgement. But it gives us “art outsiders” a heads up about who is currently worth attention. Several of my friends that have been in the Big Show in the past didn’t make the cut this year. A new juror made the smallest selection ever. But I’d rather not see the same artists show up in the same limited number of shows every year. Everyone’s got to keep moving on, keep looking for new opportunities. I love traveling to the various art fairs around the world. I’ve seen a lot of art. All of those galleries that make it in are vetted according to their programming, but they are also vetted in based on the individual artists they present in their submission portfolios. That vetting process continues all the way up the art ladder, and all through the participating artists’ careers. And just like maintaining licenses in the business world, artists have to keep paying dues/fees/shipping/framing etc… Hopefully the jurors, curators, galleries, non-profits and museums have done their part and convinced people like me to want to buy the work.

Kelly Klaasmeyer August 13, 2012 - 09:49

Hey Sebastien,
I’ll grant you that the $30 is steep but it’s less than some other juried shows charge. It used to be free and they caught a lot of flack when they started charging. But bringing in an outside juror is just one of the associated costs. And bringing in a good juror from elsewhere means your work will be seen by someone in the art world outside TX.

While it’s tough for some forms of art – performance or artists with site specific or really ephemeral work – it’s pretty egalitarian in other ways. You just have to figure out how to haul your shit there and pay the fee.

Photographic images of non-photographic work can be misleading. Some work is almost impossible to photograph accurately. Just look at the difference between the images in an exhibition catalog and the work in the show itself. (The surfaces of Serra’s drawings at the Menil did not convey even in the lush catalog.) Also, judging from jpgs is a financial and technological hurdle to many artists who don’t have the cash to pay someone or the gear or skills to document their own work, which costs way more than $30.

The Big Show is inherently flawed, just like every other juried show. It’s a $30 ticket to a subjective lottery but with far better odds than a Lotto quick pick. And it is still a way for many artists to get their work seen. And if there is no way an artist can shoehorn their work into the requirements of the Big Show, they can always submit an exhibition proposal to Lawndale. Their next deadline is September 15, 2012!

Sebastien Boncy August 13, 2012 - 14:21

Kelly, I can appreciate everything the Lawndale does right, and have said as much, but I still maintain that the Big Show, and most similar juried shows really, are too compromised. I understand why they are compromised, but the understanding doesn’t redeem them. It’s time we artist started saying no to practices that just don’t make sense for us.
Almost none of the artworld practices that Donald Judd criticized 60 years ago have been addressed, let alone fixed. We’ve been too lenient.

Kelly Klaasmeyer August 17, 2012 - 07:42

I hear you about juried shows. I think it’s best to view them like the lottery. They can be very helpful to a very few artists but there will also be a whole lot of people who wasted time, money and effort. It’s whether you think the gamble works for you.

Taking a page from Christina Ree’s Glasstire Whippersnapper piece, a group of artists could pool their entry fees and use them to put together their own show. event, performance, whatever. You still have to get people to come to it, stuff like the Big Show does have a built-in audience, but if it’s interesting enough, people will show up. And publicizing shows and events is much easier these days than even 10 or 15 years ago. Go social media.

I wish someone would come up with something amazing to do at that West Oaks Mall art space. Yeah, it’s way the hell out at Hwy 6 and Westheimer but it’s a whole abandoned J.C. Penney! It reminds me of all the cheap empty warehouse space Houston had in the ’90s…

Julie August 13, 2012 - 11:57

But Richard Serra’s amazing drawings would be disqualified from the big show because they are not framed.

Kelly Klaasmeyer August 13, 2012 - 13:12

Good point!

C August 14, 2012 - 10:13

Huh? I’ve submitted unframed works before. Nowhere does it say that work MUST be framed. Only if it’s paper woven from spider’s silk and no one can touch it without destroying it should the artist be cognizant enough to do themselves and the juror a favor by framing it.

Julie August 14, 2012 - 11:14

They always say that works on paper must be “ready to hang” or behind glass. I know because I’ve sweated many times the cost and time required to frame or mount my works that are not meant to be hung that way. Also most of Richard Serra’s best drawings would exceed the Big Show’s size limit that are necessary for their full effect. Let’s just face it there is no respect for the art in the juried show process. There has to be a better way and we (the artits) must be the ones who insist on it.

C August 14, 2012 - 11:34

“Ready to Hang” doesn’t mean framed. It means you have to just provide them with instructions on how you want it hung, be it magnets, push-pins, what have you. There also is no size limit, other than you’ve got to be able to fit it in the building. A friend of mine called and they even provided him with measurements for the doors! Don’t get your panties in a twist, artits. If you don’t like the game, don’t play it! But you’ve got a pretty sweet deal living in Houston. Just the other day I spied a juried exhibition in New York City that was over $100 to apply. The Big Show might not be my favorite thing Lawndale does all year, but otherwise they’ve put on some of the most interesting things I’ve even seen in this town, and they are giving a lot of opportunities to emerging artists – FOR FREE.

Me August 13, 2012 - 22:00

Just take a summer vacation then and don’t write about it. I know the folks at Lawndale sure do need a break (on top of all the other things happening throughout the year). Can you imagine handling almost 1000 works by 300+ artists in a couple days? I’d much rather be sippin on margarittas by the pool than looking through all that work over the weekend. Its like a trip to the Guild shop for 6 days staright! If you’re ready for a show just propose one for free. In the meantime I’m going back to my margaritta.

Loli Fernandez August 14, 2012 - 00:20

I concede, perhaps the Big Show could stand a bit of a make over and $30.00 can mean a lot if it means gas, food or the show. But, surprise Sebastian, showing your art is not easy, being represented worst, living is costly and art is a demanding and expensive mistress.

As for the opportunities it provides, it doesn’t, it provides a window, then you have to work make something of it.

One question: How does schadenfreude come into this, bitte?

Jenni Rebecca August 16, 2012 - 10:08

I salute the Lawndale staff for producing a show featuring such a wide cross-section of local artists in one place. I can only imagine it’s a tiring and thankless process. Personally, I love the show for what comes out of the woodwork. However certain artists feel about it (and all due respect to those who aren’t fans), it’s an excellent opportunity (or “door to opportunity” as Loli says above), almost invariably worth entering at least once or twice, and a special night for our art scene… particularly for artists looking to shove a foot in the door. Should some artists withdraw with time, that only leaves space in the spotlight for other emerging artists.

Josh Alan August 16, 2012 - 21:22

I think that you’re looking at this one opportunity as the end-all-be-all and spending way too much time writing break-up letters instead of working on your art.

I too have applied/entered/proposed to Lawndale time and again. I too have never seen anything happen from the hours I’ve spent.

$30 is not a lot of money realistically. I’m broke too. But still. Get real.

I too entered this last show with what I thought was THE ONE. But nope. Everything is opinion. Even if the juror curates a fancy Brooklyn gallery, their taste is still only their taste and will leave everything outside of that perspective out in the street to cry and spend what change Lawndale left you at the food trucks parked outside the gallery.

I also went to opening night. I was disappointed that some of that work was in there. The reviews were even annoying. I thought some of that stuff was total nonsense. There was some good work too, but it seemed the bad work got the attention. Point is: you can think whatever you like, but don’t hold bitterness against someone for not agreeing with you. Rejection is part of the game.

Also, don’t insult money being handed out to artists. No matter what. Some give a little. Some give a lot. Like I said before, there are thousands of opportunities around the country that you can submit to. Use your internet for finding them instead of this.

Compensating everyone is total nonsense. It’s neither realistic nor necessary. That’s like asking for a gold star because you got dressed in the morning.

Any artist worth a glance either has work ready to hang or can spend a few hours getting ready. It’s not like they sprang that up on you when you walked in to hand them your work.

If you think that Lawndale should visit the hundreds of artists who enter this thing one studio at a time all over town instead of opening their doors for you to drop your work off and pick it up then you don’t really think much.

Amateurish isn’t offering artists an opportunity to get some attention and cash. Amateurish is complaining for all to hear.

In the words of my good friend, James:

You are not special.
No one owes you.
Work hard.

bubba really down deep August 17, 2012 - 23:25

I’m entertained by all this, but I just gotta say why I enter the big show: I like Lawndale. I want to DONATE the fee to them. I’m glad that this not-for-profit hires a curator (who is probably horribly underpaid given the gig) so I have a chance of something good happening to what ever work I submit, but ultimately, this is a fundraiser for a non-profit organization and they do a shit-ton of work to make the event good. I have applied to the Big Show and gotten in and I have applied to the Big Show and done the walk of shame to pick up my work. Either way, my cash has assisted the many, many, many other efforts Lawndale does on behalf of Houston and Texas artists throughout the year. Give ’em a break.


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