I have been showing work in galleries since 2000, but almost always in solo exhibitions. There is a comfort in the solo show — you know all the work that will be there, you have control over the layout and the flow of view. Group shows, in contrast, have seemed far more terrifying. What if my work is the worst? What if my work is great but stuck in a dim corner by the trash cans? Many variables, little control.
Although my child isn’t old enough to go to school, I envision the process of dropping him off on the first day of school and then picking up after to be similar to the process of a group show. When I dropped off my work, I got a quick glimpse of the other pieces but no real time too consider them and see if they will mesh well with my work. Will there be fun? Will friends be made? And then when the opening exhibition comes around, it is time to see how the pieces all came together. Is your work a good fit, part of the community? Does it stand out (in an encouraging or distracting way?) Will there be tears or laughter in the reception?
Of course, for every solo opportunity, there are ten or twenty (or a hundred) group shows calling for artists. And since I’d always rather my work be shown to the public than stacked in my studio, I have been applying diligently for exhibitions. And earlier this summer I had the opportunity to be part of a group show in Knoxville. Below is a photo I made of my submitted print with a little context of placement and surrounding pieces.
First off, I have to share that I didn’t win any of the eligible prizes (Best in Travel category, Best of Show) but the pieces that did win were exquisite. I was very happy with the results of the juried competition. The winning pieces in my categories were well composed, well executed and well printed. Kudos to them.
That said, the biggest surprise was the crowd. It was a well attended event (maybe two or three hundred attendees?) and my work had a fair amount of attention. At least some of it was commentary along the lines of “It’s just a bathroom cabinet, I could have done that” — which is admittedly some of the most quietly gratifying criticism out there. But I did overhear some praise for the color representation and detail to the texture and form of the subject. An expected mix.
Of those whose work as in the show, I’d say that forty of the fifty represented artists attended the opening. And that is where I heard the most surprising commentary. The griping from the photographers around the Best of Show piece — Sommerville #84 on the artist’s website — was astounding. “It’s just a bunch of black with a building” or “Who cares about an auto shop” or “It is so boring” …I suppose I should not have been surprised, but I definitely was disappointed. One artist on the street was telling others walking in “Don’t bother, they chose a stupid photo for the winner.” So, so sad that appreciation of work passed by for so many people.
All that said, I was definitely glad I submitted and went to the exhibition. It was a good excuse to get to Knoxville and check out downtown, make connections with a few other artists, and see how my work looked hung and in context of other artists and their photography.