Fiction Writer

Modern Art? Or A Desperate Attempt to Be Different

The Athenaeum’s 21st Annual Juried Collection opened in La Jolla this weekend. With over two hundred submissions by San Diego artists, the collection offers much-needed exposure for the local community, and a chance to create a foothold in the array of interested collectors and patrons. With so few locally centered venue’s, there is much for local artists to gain, and with so many submissions to choose from, one would expect to find at least a few stunning pieces, or at the very least a short list of ‘artists to watch.’ Sadly, from what I saw at this years collection, either the San Diego’s art community has little to offer, or the judges of this years show are confused the ‘different’ with the ‘good.’

First prize went to an empty wooden circle — not carved or engraved; not special in any way — mounted on a white wall. Perhaps it was sanded by the artist; perhaps it was even cut and shaped by hand, but the value of the art lays entirely in what I can only assume is an abstract commentary on life, rather than the art itself. Honorable mentions included a set of mounted vegetable steamers and serving bowls, similarly chosen, I suppose, for their ‘new perspective’ on kitchen objects? Despite a few bright pieces, including a photograph whose manipulation of light was interesting, and an installation of noah’s ark surrounded by dinosaur heads being stared down by a small plastic astronaut (which at least succeeded in being comprehendingly thought provoking, even if it is a familiar idea), the overfall message of the collection seemed to be that creating something “different” is more important than creating something with raw artistic talent.

While I of course support the goal of art to change the way we think about the world, and while I concede that such a goal oftentimes requires art to do something that’s never been done before, I stand committed, as a painter and art lover, to the belief that what we put on display in our galleries and show rooms should be visually and artistically astounding, and birthed from true artistic talent. An empty wooden circle or a broken open paper mache ball might be making a comment on the lack of meaning in our over-commercialized and consumerist world, but the importance of the Antheneum’s 21st Annual Juried Collection to the local San Diego’s art community is too great to waste it’s wall space on pieces whose sole value is its abstract attempt at deep thought.

How many artists with visually inspiring pieces were left out this year so that the visual ‘unusual’ could be mounted on the wall? And perhaps even more importantly, will the larger, national community of art lovers accept this lack of real talent into their museums and homes?

While I don’t know who was turned down for this years show, and fully admit I have no way of knowing for sure that the other submissions offered more talent than what was shown, I can’t help but feel that this years collection has offered false hope to a group of people who I am sure take their art very seriously, and a blow to the ego of some still undiscovered, extremely talented artists. To those who didn’t make it in this year and should have, I hope my opinion here revitalized your resolve, and offered some small glimmer of hope.

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