The Unjuried Art Show

Images property of Wet Paint Gallery, Key West

As an artist and a gallery owner, I find myself struggling to balance a desire to exhibit many different styles of art, beyond my personal aesthetic or intellectual preferences, while being true to the vision of my gallery and preserving the artistic integrity of the current body of work. My wife and I run a very contemporary, nontraditional gallery. We do not sell prints of our work, and we do not work with artists who sell prints.

To us, the integrity of the art is as much its true uniqueness as the completed work. We shy away from traditional, representational art, and by unintentional default, we alienate the masses. Sometimes we are able to convert the Kinkade lover into a collector of something abstract, different, or maybe even ugly. Those are good days.

Art can be pretty. It just can't be only pretty. Art moves from being a decoration to being art when it creates a response. It may be a feeling of serenity, it may be excitement, it may be sorrow, but art with no soul is something you buy at HomeGoods. It is not something you should spend thousands of dollars on, no matter who the artist is.

Many galleries seem to function like prep schools when determining which artists they are willing to represent. They want to know your pedigree, your background, where else you have shown. As a gallery owner, I understand that. A well-groomed, well-established artist is full of selling points. As an artist, however, I think it is tragic the way talented individuals are shut out of opportunities to show their work because they are unknown, not well collected, or not following an outdated, predetermined path laid out for them.

I have seen a recent rebellion against the exclusive art machine in the Unjuried Art Shows popping up everywhere. It wasn't long ago that the concept seemed wildly unique, and now it is growing in popularity at an exciting rate. Artists are banding together to set up independent shows, and people are buying! New art collectors are being born through these events, and new artists are gaining well deserved recognition they wouldn't have otherwise had.

This week we are having an unjuried exhibit at our gallery. To be fair, we put out the call to artists, and our selections were first come, first served. Admittedly, I was nervous, but in the end, it felt good to give up control and let the art speak for itself.

In our case, we are doing a 12x12x12 show, 12 artists, each painting 12 original pieces, all 12" x 12" in size. A few of our artists will be showing their work for the first time ever, and the rest are at various stages of their careers, from emerging to well-established, internationally collected and represented. To raise the stakes, we decided to price all of the pieces the same at just $300. People will truly be able to vote with their wallets, taking home work that is affordable to nearly everyone.

As the visual arts teeter on the edge of irrelevance, perhaps our best next step is to let our consumers have more of a voice. Inclusion is almost always a better strategy than exclusion, isn't it?