JURORíS STATEMENT for the WP&S Wisconsin Artistís Biennial


Juror for the 2003 Wisconsin Artists Biennial, Joan Rothfuss, chooses award winners.
In the process of choosing objects for this yearís Wisconsin Artists Biennial, I looked at over 500 slides representing the work of about 250 artists. Most of what I saw was new to me, which is always a pleasure. That said, I probably should be embarrassed by my ignorance of the art scene in a neighboring state, but the reality of a museum curatorís life is that we donít get out as often as we would like. Thatís why I welcome opportunities like this one, because I get to spend time a few hours looking at and thinking about art--one of my favorite things to do--and I get lots of new information about what artists in the region are up to.

As a juror, I have two criteria that I always apply to my selections. The first is excellence in execution. I want to see that an artist is skilled in handling the materials he or she has chosen, and that attention has been paid to formal concerns--scale, format, presentation, and the like. For me, these are crucial to making an effective work, perhaps because the experience of art is always, to some degree, a physical experience, which means that an object has to succeed on a very basic, visceral level. The materials used also need to feel like the best possible choice for the job, whether the job is a landscape painting, a portrait bust, or an abstract sculpture meant to evoke inner realities. (An obvious caveat here is that I chose this exhibition by looking at slides, which means my experience of the work was hugely compromised, but thatís another one of those unavoidable realities.)

My second criterion is one probably shared by many people who are passionate about contemporary art: I want to be both surprised and delighted. I look for work that is fresh or risky or somehow unexpected, or has a strong beauty that is hard to pass by. Sometimes that happens when the iconography or narrative depicted is mysterious or inscrutable. Other times, itís because the artist has found an unusual way to represent a traditional subject, or has married material and subject matter in a provocative way. For me, the best contemporary art doesnít reinforce what I already know, but leads me somewhere else. It doesnít give me an answer; instead, it poses a question. Iím happiest when Iíve been so affected by an object that it stays in my mind long after itís out of my sight.

In this exhibition, youíll find my very subjective selection of eighty works that somehow surprised and delighted me. It was gratifying that, without setting out to do so, I chose works in a broad range of media--there are paintings in oil, acrylic, encaustic, and watercolor; sculpture of clay, steel, fiber, glass gypsum, and the ubiquitous ďmixed mediaĒ; prints in woodcut, intaglio and mezzotint; photographs, drawings, and objects that use digitized imagery in various ways. Thanks to all these artists for taking me to someplace I hadnít been before.

Curator, Permanent Collection, Walker Art Center,