Maybe South Sound artists just aren’t good enough for the Tacoma Art Museum. In many ways TAM is a wonderful institution, and I’ve been overjoyed at the many wonderful shows they’ve brought to Tacoma throughout the years. But wouldn’t you think that once in a while they could represent South Sound?
The only time TAM shows works by contemporary regional artists is during their every-other-year biennial, which is always heavy on Seattle and Portland artists. It’s easy to say that those are bigger cities with more vibrant art markets and therefore more deserving artists. It’s easy, but it just ain’t so. We have plenty of outstanding artists in Tacoma and Olympia whose work is every bit as good as the best in those bigger cities, but they are seldom given a chance to show their stuff. A local artist recently told me that most Tacoma artists no longer even bother to enter the Northwest Biennial because they know they haven’t a chance of being selected.
Here’s what I wrote in my 2007 review of the 8th Northwest Biennial:
I think it’s a wonderful show featuring an all-star lineup of the best contemporary artists in the Pacific Northwest. It’s just not what I think a regional juried show should be -- the key word being juried.
If it were an invitational, well that would be a horse I could saddle up and ride with pleasure. But I had always been led to believe a regional juried exhibition was an opportunity for and an introduction to emerging artists in the area.
Traditionally this show has been an opportunity for little known but deserving artists to rise to the next level. But this show features artists such as Michael Spafford, Juan Alonzo, Chris Bruch, Joe Feddersen and Robert Yoder. We’re talking well established artists including Neddy Award winners and artists whose work is owned by the museum. Spafford is a Northwest icon.
Almost 900 artists sent in their $20 entry fee in hopes of getting their moment in the spotlight, and most of them never had a chance. Curator and co-juror Rock Hushka said, “The goal of the biennial is to revisit accomplished bodies of work. We wanted to offer the opportunity to explore the powerful images that have shaped contemporary dialogues about the region’s art.” I don’t believe that many, if any, of the artists who entered the competition had any idea that was the goal of the exhibition. Had they known, most of them would not have entered.
In my 2009 review of the 9th annual I was a little more succinct. I wrote, “…there’s too much photography, and it would be nice if there were at least one South Sound artist in the show.”
And now we get the announcement of the selections for the 10th annual biennial, which is slated to open Jan. 21. There are 10 artists from Portland, six from Seattle, and only one from Tacoma. Juliette Ricci. The only other South Sound artist is Jeremy Mangan from Fife. Congratulations to Ricci and Mangan.
To Rock Hushka, curator, and Stephanie Stebich, director: Isn’t it about time that TAM represents South Sound artists? Please, you’ve got to do better by us. I’m just about ready to call on area artists to occupy TAM.