By Hollyn Scott
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “merit” as “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.” The reception for the 41st Juried Exhibition at the Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens, Georgia on March 24, 2016 showcased the best 230 works out of 933 submissions by local artists to a building full of intrigued onlookers both young and old. A handful of these artworks were deemed “particularly good” enough to receive awards from guest juror Mr. Jock Reynolds.
Reynolds, who is the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery and recipient of awards such as two NEA Visual Artists Fellowships, bestowed 10 merit awards, four merit prizes and 38 honorable mentions. Other named recognitions included the Ed Lambert Award for Excellence in Fiber, the Jim Strawser Award for Excellence in Photography, the L. David Dwinell Award for Excellence in Visual Arts, the Nancy Lukaseiwicz Award for Excellence in Fine Arts, the Athens Art Association Patron’s Award, the Athens Center Choice Award, the Todd Emily Purchase Award, the Anonymous Purchase Award, the W. Robert Ramey Purchase Award and the Marilyn Wolf Ragatz Purchase Award.
Although awards do not always mean certain works of art are better than others, many of the people at Thursday night’s reception, including myself, seemed to flock around the award-winning pieces, standing in awe while sipping wine out of plastic cups and munching on various pigs-in-a-blanket-type snacks. Aided by careful placement in the gallery, these pieces were the obvious standouts, commanding attention and analysis from everyone that passed by them.
Upon first entering the Lyndon House it is difficult not to become overwhelmed by the large exhibition of works scattered throughout the white walls of the first and second floors, but as you begin walking along the sides of the gallery to examine the pieces, it becomes clear that each work has been intentionally placed according to its artistic category. Most of the paintings, drawings, photographs and collages are downstairs, while the metal work, fiber art, ceramics and mixed media pieces are showcased upstairs. The idea was to cluster together the works in the same categorical groups and spread apart the groups with plenty of white space in between them, while placing the winning pieces nearby their groups but strategically far away enough so that they may be viewed separately and without diversion.
Of the award-winning standouts, Elizabeth Barton’s “Legacy” quilt/fiber collage, Ariel Lockshaw’s “Temporary Barriers” mixed media on canvas and Jennifer Kirkpatrick’s “Collapse” Masonite and house paint pieces are given particularly larger areas of wall apart from other artworks. Not only does this seclusion emphasize the importance or “merit” of these pieces, but the large white areas surrounding the works make them jump out, allowing us to notice the complexities of Barton’s cloth layering collage, the warm color scheme and multiple medium usage on Lockshaw’s abstract canvas and the intricate Masonite crafting Kirkpatrick used to create her eye-catching image. While I am glad the placement of these exceptional pieces allowed me not to miss them, I do wish some of the other pieces hadn’t been clumped so close together since I could not observe them as efficiently as the works that were given more space.
Despite this small problem with some crowded areas, the exhibition’s organized groups of categorically related pieces separated by large portions of white space make viewing the majority of the artwork a pleasure, rather than a chore. The openness of the Lyndon House building allowed large groups of people at the exhibition reception to enjoy and spectate the over 200 pieces without distracting each other, but still feeling a sense of community in consuming the art.
As with any genre of art, whether it be music, theatre or dance, some singers will be more vocally talented than others, some actors will be more entertaining and some dancers will be more coordinated. The same can be said of the artworks showcased at the Lyndon House’s 41st Juried Exhibition. Mr. Reynolds fulfilled his duty in choosing the 230 best pieces of art to be hung along the walls of the gallery and further enhanced the visitor’s viewing experience by placing the award recipients’ pieces so that they would not be missed by anyone browsing the many artworks. Although this concept of organizing the pieces so that the prize-winners took center stage did cause a few of the honorable mentions and non-award winners to go less noticed, the exhibition gave merit to the exceptional in a way that could fulfill anyone’s art appetite and, for this reason, the exhibition and the reception receive 4 out of 5 paint brushes.