Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Represent South Sound

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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Alec,
Thank you for your coverage of Folk Treasures of Mexico last week. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the exhibition.
I wanted to take a moment and respond to this blog post. I was surprised to read your reaction that “South Sound artists just aren’t good enough for the Tacoma Art Museum…. wouldn’t you think that once in a while they could represent South Sound?” Just in the past year, the museum has featured 26 South Sound-based artists in Mighty Tacoma, which focused on the city of Tacoma, and its people, as well as the home-grown artists that filled the gallery walls. We have recently exhibited works by Lisa Kinoshita and Tacoma-native Trudee Hill, and have presented major exhibitions by Mary Randlett, and Joe Feddersen—all South Sound residents. We have also produced major exhibitions and catalogues on the works of Dale Chihuly, Victoria Adams, and Virna Haffer.
Our annual exhibition for the Northwest Perspective Series and our five-year series of exhibitions of the Neddy Artist Fellows along with recent collection exhibitions such as The Surrealist Impulse, A Concise History of Northwest Art, and Collecting for the Future clearly demonstrate our commitment to artists of the Pacific Northwest.
The purpose and intent of The 10th Northwest Biennial is to be focused and selective given the importance of creating a historical documentation of the strongest moments in Northwest art. We believe this is a significant project that provides the first scholarly review of recent art. Over the last eight years, we have sought to increase the diversity in the artistic media, the geographic area, the stage of the artists’ careers, and the cultural diversity of all the artists represented.
There are other fine arts institutions in the region at community colleges and universities that also showcase the artists of the Northwest at different stages in their careers. They play an important role in the arts ecosystems as do museums who are considered to be final arbiters, for better or worse, in recording the story of the region’s artistic achievement.
We are very excited about the range of artwork that will fill not only the galleries but other parts of the museum for The Biennial. I hope that when you experience the exhibition, you will agree that we have done right not only by the South Sound, but by the entire Northwest arts community.
I welcome further discussion about The Biennial. If you would like to speak with Rock Hushka about the exhibition, just let me know. Also, we plan on hosting a press preview for the exhibition before the opening. Lisa McKeown will send you an invitation as the date grows closer. I hope you will be able to attend.
Stephanie A. Stebich
Director, Tacoma Art Museum

Alec Clayton said...

I don't know why blogger lists this as a post by anonymous when you signed your name. Anyway, I appreciate your comment. The one thing I think I may not have been clear enough on was that I had in mind emerging or lesser known artists, those who need the kind of exposure TAM can offer. The biennial and the Neddy's, which I'm sad to see will no longer be at TAM, feature mostly more widely recognized artists. I am pleased to see that some South Sound artists such as Lisa Kinoshita have been shown, and I encourage you to offer many more opportunities to Tacoma area artists.