Litmus Dendrographa, 2015
resin, sorghum board, paint, ink drawings
A Subdermal Power Object for Social Progress (F. Douglass), 2016
Micromilled Bioceramic, Aerogel, and Aluminum
Shadow of the Past, 2015
Thread on Rust Pigmented Textile
cast concrete, painted steel
Here are some brief statistics. I reviewed 1,174 submissions of artworks and from these I selected 47, representing 46 artists (one artist has two works). This immersive experience, while sometimes exasperating and overwhelming, has largely been a pleasure and an inspiration. I am grateful for the opportunity, to Phil Amrhein, of course, but especially to the artists. As an art writer and curator, my greatest education, by far, has come from artists themselves: how they think and feel, how they risk and explore, the adventurous works they ultimately make. In a video called “Artists Are Like Clouds” sculptor Richard Tuttle has talked of such adventurous art as “renewal,” “a system that produces freedom,” and as “food for your inner life.” I heartily concur. After all my years of writing about art and curating exhibitions, but even more than that living and being with artists, I am always on the lookout for such freedom, renewal, and nutrition. Here is another statistic. 31 of the artists I selected are women, and 15 are men. This was not done by design. It simply happened, and I only realized it in retrospect. However, in my opinion the single greatest change in visual art during my time in the art world (since the early 1990s) has been the rise of female artists, which is unprecedented in all of Western art history, and which is so decisively transforming what constitutes visual art now, as well as going forward. Much of the best work that I have found so engaging (and have often written about and curated into exhibitions) has been by women, and this is also the case here, with my selections.
Now, a word about methodology. I approached this project with no overriding ideology, and I did not try to squeeze things into my own theme. Instead, heedless of mediums, genres, and trends, and largely encountering artworks (and artists) for the first time, I looked for what was inspiring and distinctive…to me; I looked for what seemed, to me, singular, explorative, eventful, and meaningful. I fully understand that another juror would, undoubtedly, have made different decisions. My decisions are also not meant to be authoritative but instead arise from my own idiosyncratic interests and enthusiasms, developed over years. In my selection one will find a really stunning photographic portrait of a goat by Denise Tarantino, and I am not at all familiar with goat portraits. One will find a vivid, mandala-like painting by Katharine Taylor that turns product names for specific kinds of paint into evocative poetry, a lovely textile by Jean Judd adorned with rust-colored pigment, a painting of a most unusual blue car by Cedric Ingram, and a captivating photograph by Bryan Florentin of two accidental or ephemeral landscapes made by human intervention. These are just a few of the works that really gathered my attention, and there were many others as well.
I am interested in flat out talent, but even more than that in wonderment and transportation, in artworks that take one to unexpected places and alter one’s consciousness, in artworks that, for whatever obvious or mysterious reasons, are energetic and cathartic and also deal in visual pleasure. Works by the three artists I selected for awards operate like this, in droves. Marcia Stuermer’s subtle painting, featuring translucent resin and hinting at biological organisms (which one might see through a microscope), plants, and landscapes is frankly enthralling. Sarah Sweeney ventured to some of Iceland’s remote and spectacular sites to photograph them but also legions of people, in a Flickr and Instagram era, doing exactly the same thing. Her photograph of five people lying on their sides on the ground, all taking pictures in the same way of the glacial lake Jökulsárlón and its famous icebergs (I’ve been to this place, and was also duly impressed, by the lake and the icebergs and the many seals thriving there) is wonderful and also hilarious. For her “Outlook” series, Charlotta María Hauksdóttir also took photographs in Iceland (her home country) but in a very special and specific way, namely from inside a house. On the wall you see family photos, drawings, and clippings that accumulated over several months—indications of domestic life. Through the window you see an outside yard full of vegetation, and this conflation of inside and outside, family life (including children) nature and world, is riveting and deeply moving. In one of the works I selected, a child seen from behind is captivated and amazed as she stares at resplendent fireworks in the yard, right out there. In the other, glinting sunlight makes the otherwise quotidian yard bedazzling and magical. Once again, it has been a pleasure and an inspiration encountering these works, and also many others that I likewise found so compelling, and I very much appreciate the opportunity.
Elaine M. Erne
Kathryn Jill Johnson