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Taking Shape – August 2015

Taking Shape

The Art League's Annual Sculpture Exhibit


  • Exhibit dates: August 5–September 7, 2015
  • Juror: Jessica Beels, sculptor
  • Opening Reception: Thursday, August 13, 6:30-8:00 pm


View exhibit program  | View exhibit on Flickr


Persephone by Hal Adkins


Juror’s dialogue with George Miller
What is it like to jury an exhibit online, without seeing the work in person?
Jessica Beels, juror: It is convenient to be able to sit at the computer and compare all of the pieces on the screen, but it is very difficult to examine the details of many pieces. Especially with such a wide variety of media, this can really be an issue! Varying image quality makes it hard to view all of the pieces on the same level (some have more than one view, some images are at a higher resolution or better composed). And even though the dimensions are listed, online images rarely convey a true sense of how an object occupies space. My fear, when selecting pieces from images only, is that an artist could have hidden a major flaw by showing only its “best” side or that lack of sufficient detail meant I wasn’t able to see a crucial aspect of execution or technique.
What advice do you have for quality photos of sculptures?
The more professional the images (adequate and balanced lighting, adequate space around the piece, no distractions, high resolution), the easier it is to see the piece and not be distracted by the setting or shortcomings of the presentation. A lovely piece can look quite amateur when photographed badly. Be sure that the photo shows the piece by itself — no cluttered backgrounds. Outdoor images are particularly distracting, unless the piece is an outdoor sculpture and it is truly necessary to show it in context. Try to take images at the level of the piece (not from an angle high above) in order to avoid shifting the perspective from how it is likely to be viewed on display. Proportions can be distorted if an image is not taken fairly straight on. And if you include different vantage points (strongly encouraged for 3D work!) be sure that they are related to each other (taken from the same distance and height). Details are appreciated, especially if you are particularly proud of the finish or attention to detail in your piece.
A note about descriptions and titles:
Describe the techniques and materials completely: avoid generalized terms and be thorough (“mixed media” can mean almost anything and some qualities, especially finishes, are hard to discern in a photo — say whether something is painted or has a patina, etc.). If the description of materials doesn’t match the appearance, one becomes suspicious of what one is seeing.
I have no problem with a piece being untitled, but if an artist decides to include a title, it is most effective if it enhances the piece, describing the maker’s intent or adding a note of humor or irony, or otherwise giving deeper meaning to the piece.
What were you looking for in a successful sculpture?
Demonstrated skill handling the medium (including stability of material and safe installation); clear conveyance of subject matter (if applicable); thoughtful, balanced composition, including pedestal or other peripheral elements. And finally, does the piece hold my attention longer than expected? Is the execution, material, or subject matter particularly compelling or surprising — am I drawn to look at it again?
What were the unselected works lacking?
Some felt more like exercises than completed projects. They were interesting ideas, but not fully realized. Also, I could only choose one work per artist, and quite a few submitted more than one. This decision was quite difficult, and it usually came down to composition and sometimes depended on my opinion of which piece would work better in the overall show.
What did you think of the different media? Were some stronger or weaker than others?
I loved the range of media, but in many ways the diversity made the decisions more difficult. I wanted to provide a balance of approaches and materials, while maintaining primary focus on quality. The figurative pieces were easier to judge in relation to each other and more abstract pieces stood out stylistically, but demanded closer attention individually. I would have liked to see more non-traditional materials.
How does your own work as an artist influence you as a juror?
I work mostly with less traditional materials, so I am particularly interested in choice of material and technique. I like my work to draw the viewer in with curiosity about how a sculpture was made as much as what it depicts. When I view a sculpture I wonder: Is the artist starting with an idea and finding a way to represent it, or are they exploring a medium and seeing what comes of it (or both)?
What drew you to the award winners? Can you elaborate on your selections?
    Persephone: This is such a satisfying portrait, and difficult because it seems so familiar. I was drawn to its simplicity — without sacrificing attention to detail — and nice use of subtle color. The title makes a difference, adding a layer of narrative and pointing to the interior life of the character. Yet its outward but distant look interacts with the viewer in the present.
    Before Legos: Beautiful, complex movement, intriguing construction, clean composition, thoughtful choice of materials and proportion. Very satisfying piece.
    Aspen: This figure is clear and well-thought-out, with attention to detail (use of matte vs. gloss finish, paint, decals) and a distinctive style. It is alluring and solidly, confidently itself.
    Meditation: There is a lovely, calm feeling evoked by the piece’s title, and the ripples on the back of the head effectively pulled the design away from a naturalistic representation, giving satisfying depth to the piece. Good choice of and control of material. It draws you in closer to contemplate the expression, as well as the finish.
    Beginning: The title enhanced and intrigued — beginning of what? This piece was a jumping off point. It seems to refer to both the artist’s process and a more open timeframe. I found myself walking around it and coming back to it to see more. I enjoyed looking at the variations in surface treatment and restrained detail.

What do you hope the viewer comes away from this show with?
Some pieces relate to each other. I hope viewers will think about various representations of the human figure, and consider why the artist made choices in each piece’s execution. Others demand attention because they are so different or unexpected.
What advice do you have for our artists?
Beautiful work! Looking at these pieces as a “blind” juror made me want to find out who made them and how they chose these media and subjects. Some prices are too low for the work put in to them — don’t devalue your work! Also, do not significantly alter a piece from the way you show it in the jury photo. You have chosen to present the piece one way, and alterations effectively make it a different piece.
Is there anything you wish you had seen more of? Less of?
More abstract work would have been welcome. I am a personal fan of sculptures with surprises: motion, details, unexpected use of material.


About the juror: Jessica Beels is a sculptor working in a variety of media, including handmade paper stretched over reed and steel armatures. She holds a BA in Art History (Harvard University, 1985) and a Masters in Early American Decorative Arts (Winterthur Program, University of Delaware, 1992). Her crafts background includes many self-taught techniques. More formal training includes classes in metalwork (Penland School of Crafts, NC, and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, ME), papermaking (Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, ME), and stone carving (Corcoran School of Art, DC).



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