Shauna: First Dede, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to continue our conversation about curating a show, focusing this time specifically on our own Bendheim show. I understand there were 277 works of art submitted and, due to space considerations you could only accept about 30%. From those, you were to award 13 prizes. I am very interested in your process as you went about this task. But, before we begin with my questions are there any comments you would like to make in general?
Dede: Thank you for the invitation. Those who were on hand during the jurying process were terrific. It was excellent to have so many good people there, and I appreciate the bringing of water to the site; this was so thoughtful and kept us all hydrated. Lunch was a treat, not only was the food good, but the chance to get to know a few people was really nice for me.
Shauna: How did you first go about getting an idea of what all was there and organizing the material? It seems to me there are many sensible options ranging from the casual to the methodical and attempting to see the whole or immediately dividing into parts. In this case, did you do what you usually do or try something new?
Dede: Every situation is different, and space constraints and lighting usually dictate the obvious process for spreading groups of works out so they can be seen in good light. I followed the suggestion of going by medium, since the works already had been more or less sorted that way.
Shauna: Before you began making decisions, you must have looked carefully, perhaps several times, at each of the works. Did you go about this initial look in primarily a right-brained (gut level) or left-brained (rational assessment) fashion?
Dede: I looked at everything twice over, and then within the groupings another couple times and then began to eliminate works, paring down the total over a series of eliminating rounds. I decided that no one artist would have two works in the show; I would select only one so that more artists could be represented. That seemed the egalitarian approach.
Shauna: You said in our previous conversation that “the work submitted ‘tells me’ what the show must become”. Did this begin to happen during this initial look? If not, when did it happen?
Dede: In this case, it was only on the last round of elimination that I got to a stricter sense of what had to happen. Since there was a wide range of talent to consider, I tended to be hard on those artists whose works I felt were really good but ‘missed’ in a small way being what I felt they could or should be. Some of the works that were obviously by a less experienced artist may have gotten in because I felt the work was as integrated as it could be or should be by the artist at that point of development. This would be easier to explain standing in the gallery and talking about specific choices. It sounds a little abstract.
Shauna: You said in our talk last month that you are interested in how we are connected on this planet. Did this theme come up this time?
Dede: Actually, I think this came up in a few cases with awards. Artists who were looking beyond the known and everyday I was eager to acknowledge. A photograph of a dancer from another culture somehow grabbed my heart more than a more commonly experienced image.
Shauna: If you possibly can, describe what was going on inside of you on the conscious and subliminal levels as you initially assessed the art.
Dede: I was considering the range of experience of the artist that I was seeing and trying to assess how to be inclusive of artists at all different levels in their careers. I could not help but notice that the photographers, when they had submitted two works of art, had the most consistency image to image. That spurred me to the conscious decision to select only one image per artist, otherwise the show would have had too many photographs.
Shauna: Somewhere along the line, you had to begin making decisions. How did you go about it? Was your fundamental approach one of deciding to include a work or exclude it? (Or a combination of both?) What criteria were you using in choosing to include or exclude a work?
Dede: No, beauty is not a concern, though I appreciate beauty.
Dede:Yes, this is important. Many poorly framed or mounted images were eliminated on this aspect alone.
Dede:Yes, I do respond to emotional content, though this does not always appeal to me. For example, some images that were very charming would have been included if they met other criteria, and some images were eliminated because the emotional content was not married to the form.
Dede:I have no bias for one subject over another.
Shauna:Emerging theme of show?
Dede:No, no theme emerged to make me decide for or against a single work
Shauna:Style – cutting edge or nostalgic?
Dede:Not really. Form and idea must be married or the work does not work for me.
Dede:Actually, no. I included many works that I consider derivative of master artists and historically important styles and genres.
Shauna:Level of difficulty attempted?
Dede: Not really. Some of the less experienced artists did an excellent overall job of marrying form and idea, even though their works were not necessarily difficult to create, they achieved an overall quality of finish and attention to details.
Shauna:Use of color, form, line?
Dede: This is always important.
Dede:I don’t think I saw any works that impressed me with a fresh perspective, but there were several that reached in a new direction.
Shauna: In the later stages of decision making when you had to choose between several works of equal quality, what was the deciding factor?
Dede: I think I answered this above, but ultimately I eliminated works that, even though more advanced than others in some ways, had an unresolved area that I felt needed to be resolved in order for the work to be shown.
Shauna: During this process, did the voices of your teachers and mentors, or other artists with whom you have worked echo in your mind?
Dede: No. I have developed my own eye and sensitivity to jurying shows over the years, so I am guided by that. I could not, at this stage of my career, separate out voices of others; I’ve integrated them all into where I am now.
Shauna: Was there anything that surprised you?
Dede: Yes, I was delighted and surprised that there were so many artists involved!
Shauna: Anything that brought up a pet peeve?
Dede: Yes, poor presentation—scratched glass, loose frame corners, poor matting. I think overly decorative matting is not a good choice for public presentation in an art venue. Decorative matting is for work in the home and is best with the surrounding décor.
Shauna: Anything that you did not see that you would have liked to?
Dede: I saw so much good work that I had a great time, and was not let down at all.
Shauna: Prizes. I realize that I assume this part was joyful icing on the cake but perhaps it was the most difficult part of all. Tell me about choosing the prize winners.
Dede: First prize went to the work that I will remember the longest; I can still see it in my mind’s eye. After that, I wanted to award various media and a couple favorites for reasons that are hard to express in words.
Shauna: Secondarily, did you see any particular strengths in the submissions that made you think we should create a specific prize category to reward it? Do you think we award enough prizes? Too many?
Dede: Awards are important to the artists, so I think it is great to have lots of them. I do think that since you have categorical submissions—painting, mixed media, photography, sculpture, etc. that you should give one award in each media, plus a first second third without that restriction.
Shauna: What part of this particular show did you find to be the most fun?
Dede: The lovely people on hand to shuffle the works around.
Shauna: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement or observations you would like to share with Greenwich Art Society Artists?
Dede: My advice is that when you submit, think hard about what someone unfamiliar with your work might think. You may be a star in your circle, and you may be very experienced, but the juror is totally insensitive to ‘who’s who.’ The work must be the best you can do, without any comparison to anyone else’s work. If you work in a variety of styles, submit what you do best. You cannot strategize better than that for a juried show. I encourage you all to work in the studio as many hours a day as you possibly can. Invite me to do a critique if you would like a more in depth discussion.
Shauna: I know you were hanging a new big show at the Neuberger this week. What is it and how long will it run?
Dede: The show is a huge installation of site-responsive work by a Brooklyn based artist Lesley Dill. Entitled Lesley Dill: Tremendous World, the show runs through June 3. Look on our website for info about programs, and if you want to hear me talk about the show and art, come to one of the scheduled programs.
Shauna: Many, many thanks for sharing with us, Dede. Be sure to let us know when your book comes out!
Dede: Thank you for a fun and engaging experience!