Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Writing Life, Do Exhibition Reviews Matter?

This week was distributed across several projects, for example several days ago I was advised that C magazine was out on the stands and that the current issue contains my review of Phillipa Jones' show at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, MIRIAD.  That was a pretty fast turn around as the show review was finalized in April and is out in June.

That isn't always the case.  My review of BOXED IN, for Espace magazine, was due June 5th. It was not an easy show to review because of the large number of artists - 67 - deciding who gets left out is tricky business.  But I felt the show gave me a chance to speculate on current trends on sculpture practice in Canada as it contained work from every province and two territories. While I am happy to report that it was accepted for publication it will only run in December –for the artists waiting for feedback that feels like forever.  Receiving an informed opinion on new work is probably the single, strongest reason why an artist wants a review.  Yes, it builds a resume and a career but just having someone sit down and think about your work and share those reactions and insights is valuable and an antidote to being alone in your studio month after month.

Exhibition reviews come and go in favour.  It used to be that magazines ran reviews if galleries advertised on a regular basis with a publication.  Thankfully, we don't see much of that anymore.  And negative reviews have also gone out of favour.  I know in my case, if I feel negatively about a show I will not review it.  I will however meet with the artist and share my concerns and see what else I can learn about the work.  But I don't think it helps anyone to print negative commentary unless it is an opinion column or an editorial, in which case, it is issue based as opposed to an exhibition by a specific artist.  A magazine's pages are prime real estate and editors are very careful as to what they include.  A review is also usually the first step in getting an artist profile down the line.  They are a valuable introduction to an editor and an audience of readers.

One of my other projects this week was being one of three jurors for the Craft Gallery's Annual Member Exhibit.  I think it is relatively easy to pick out the most successful or appropriate pieces for an exhibition.  And I enjoy learning from my fellow jurors who inevitably have different perspectives as they bring different experience to the table.  What I find harder to determine is "what will sell?"  I often feel that the work I most enjoy is the least commercially viable.  In this financial climate, every sale is an important one for both artist and gallery.  So, the thorny issue is often not what is best but what will hit the right chord with collectors and buyers in general.  After all, having your work purchased may be the most valuable form of feedback.  It is encouragement or endorsement that keeps everyone producing.

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