America Is… on Display at Touchstone Gallery

Touchstone Gallery Director Ksenia Grishkova provides a behind the scenes look at America Is…, the Gallery’s August 2019 national juried show.

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 The following conversation between Ksenia Grishkova and Touchstone blog editor Patricia Williams has been edited for clarity and length.

 Q: Why is Touchstone Gallery sponsoring this exhibition?

 A: This is our third national juried show since 2016. We like to bring in artists from other areas from time to time, because we want our community to be able to see something different.  A national show gives people a chance to view artwork from across the country, and it gives many of the participating artists the opportunity to present their work to a new audience.

 It also gives us an opportunity to reach out to artists that are located in other areas to spread the word about the gallery. While we also represent artists in Delaware, Georgia and Paris, our primary function is to represent local artists. That’s our base, and that’s what we do, but we also have opportunities for artists outside our area to mount solo shows in our gallery as well as to participate in group shows like America Is…

 Another goal was to bring in jurors who do not live in the area to present viewpoints as diverse as possible. We wanted people who are established in their field to be sure we would get good work. We hoped that it would be interesting for someone who never worked in Washington DC to participate in a show here. We are pleased and grateful to our culturally and geographically diverse panel, including:

 ·         Rachel Adams, Chief Curator and Director of Programs, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE);

·         Taylor Bythewood-Porter, Assistant History Curator, California African American Museum;

·         Jen Mergel, Independent Curator, Vice-President, Programs, Association of Art Museum Curators;  Founding Director, Curatorial Network Accelerator of Boston; and

·         Jennifer M. Williams, Public Programs Manager, New Orleans Museum of Art.

 They had a difficult job, and they did it well.

Finally, we hoped that everybody who lives here, all the people who know us, would find it unusual and interesting to come and see what these people created. When else would you get a chance to go to Boston and Omaha and New Orleans and Los Angeles to get to talk to these people? We are trying to bring it all together here—benefits to the artists, the jurors and the local community.

Alx Orphant,  Wounded Holler , glass syringes, wood board, acrylic paint

Alx Orphant, Wounded Holler, glass syringes, wood board, acrylic paint

Q: What happened next?

 A: We started receiving in mid-July and installed the works after the Gallery’s July show ended on July 28. We had a couple of days of intense effort to get ready for the opening reception on August 2. There were a number of special considerations that made this trickier than our usual shows. Some pieces are site specific, and the artists came in to install the works. Other pieces are quite large, including an 11-foot tall sculpture that had to be modified to fit through our door. Another work could not be delivered until Thursday after the rest of the show was already in place. It’s nice to see all the art together before you hang a show, but that wasn’t possible in this case. Instead, I made a layout ahead of time because we wouldn’t be able to make too many adjustments once we started installing the works.

Someone asked me if I am the curator of this show. I am hanging it and placing it, but I am not the curator. I am a collaborator. The artists created the work. The jurors selected the work. I put it together in our space, because I know our space and I know what will work best to present each piece of art in its best light and to make it all work together as well.

Q: And then there’s a big party?

 A: Yes, you plan an opening, and you don’t know how it will go. You hope people will come. You hope there will be press coverage. You reach out and try to do your best.

 We were very pleased that many of the out-of-town artists were able to come to the opening as well as one of our jurors, Jen Mergel. In addition, Nicole Gaines from the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services for Ward 2 presented greetings and a letter of recognition from   D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Everyone enjoyed the refreshments provided by the reception’s sponsors, including hors d'oeuvres by Occasions Caterers and a tasting of gourmet frozen desserts from Moorenko's Ice Cream. But the the best part was for everyone to be able to see and talk about an exciting show. After the party we are not done working on the show until we take all the work down.

 Q: Do you have any advice for artists entering a juried competition?

 A: Yes. Follow the instructions in the prospectus to the very best of your ability.

Don DonCee Coulter,  First Avenue Part II: Urban Decay,  Leather, Suede, Denim, Wood, Fabric

Don DonCee Coulter, First Avenue Part II: Urban Decay, Leather, Suede, Denim, Wood, Fabric

That said, we always work with artists to fix any problems with a submission. We want to have a good relationship with everyone. Lots of people apply for our juried shows year after year. Some entered a show with us ten years ago, and they do it again because they had a good experience with us even if they didn’t get in. They still felt that they were judged fairly, that they were treated well and that good communication was established. I want the reputation of the gallery to be that we talk to artists, and help them. We do our best to respond to every email we get, every complaint that we get. We try to do better. We like our return customers. In this case, artists are also customers. We want them to get the best experience out of this. We want them to be exposed to the jurors, in this case four experienced jurors, that might not otherwise see their work. Who knows how that might help them in the future and in what way?

It’s not so easy for an artist to reach out to curators, to just send a resume and some images and say hey, look at my work. This is a way for everybody who replied to be exposed to four curators, because they have to review your work. Whether they liked it or not, whether they picked it or not, they still reviewed it. That is an opportunity that has potential implications for the artist beyond this show.

Q: What surprised you about this year’s show? 

A: I don’t think I was surprised. There is a certain routine, and we know what to do. I am always excited by the quality of the work, because you never know what you are going to get. Before we start receiving images, I have no idea what will come to us. When I see the options and I see what is coming to us, that is when I can start sleeping again. I start thinking, this is going to be really good. When there is something that is really grabbing and interesting and unusual, that’s when the show starts coming together for me. It’s not surprise, it’s excitement. But when you start the process, you don’t know whether you will get there or not. It’s like the hour before you are having a big party, and you don’t know if anyone will show up. 

Some of the pieces can be interpreted in different ways. What is interesting about art, especially art that is themed like this, is that it reflects the moment in time. If you see it later, it may have a completely different meaning.

 Q: Will we do this again next year?

 A: After the show is done I’m going on vacation. Then we’ll talk.

Judith G. Levy,  Splendid County Roads, Refuge Co., South Dakota , Archival Digital Collage, Edition 4 of 10

Judith G. Levy, Splendid County Roads, Refuge Co., South Dakota, Archival Digital Collage, Edition 4 of 10

America Is… , August 2-29, 2019, Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Avenue NW, Washington DC

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