The gallery is good sized and the city is both larger and much harder to get to than I realized. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show and how broad it was in media, subject and style. I was also surprised by how strange and seemingly poorly organized the events were on Saturday. Just to be clear, I don't actually think that the events were poorly organized. There was clearly money and planning and time that went into the event. I just couldn't figure out why the events would be set up in the way they were.
I believe the big draw of the day was the juror's lecture. I certainly went to the show in large part because of the juror, Alfredo Arreguin. I was curious to see what he chose for inclusion in the show and I was curious to hear him speak. I assume others who traveled from the east came for similar reasons. The show is a statewide show with no media restrictions and no pre-determined theme (unless you count the juror's tastes). The show seemed to be more heavily comprised of Seattle area artists, but the state's population is concentrated in this area, so that seems reasonable. There were at least a handful of central Washington artists in the show, myself included.
|"Gears" by Rachel Dorn|
The show itself was probably worth the trip. I thought the quality of the work was consistently good. There were almost 130 pieces in the show and I can't remember more than one or two pieces I thought were questionable. However, the events of the day were odd. The first hint that the reception was organized differently from those I usually attend was when we were asked to pay for guests and to limit those guests to only 2 or 3 people. Since the main event and the main draw was the juror's lecture, I see the reason for the limit, but I was sursprised that the reception and lecture were both capped rather than having a drop-in reception and a limited audience for the lecture. The second surprise was that the week of the show we were informed via e-mail that if we hadn't already RSVP'd we couldn't come. I suppose those who didn't RSVP could have stopped by the show that afternoon before the reception moved up the street.
Regardless, I reserved my spot in time and got myself to Seattle. I worked out the ferry system, more or less, and arrived at Bremerton only an hour later than Mapquest and the online ferry schedule suggested and a few minutes before 5. I went in to the show and made my way around the gallery before heading over to the reception a few blocks up at City Hall. The gallery was crowded but navigable and the downstairs had plenty of room.
The "reception" was held in a different building, presumably to afford more space and room for everyone to see the speakers. Once I found the spot (from the language of our e-mail I was expecting to walk up the street, not several blocks), I walked in the doors and stopped immediately behind a wall of people. Being not extremely tall, I stood behind taller people for a while before the wall distinguished itself into two lines. I was standing on the left waiting for something while others on the right were waiting for something else. I waited a while longer and scooted my way to either side to determine that I was in a food line and the other line was for tickets. I had reserved a ticket but had yet to pick it up. I was pretty hungry and there was clearly a huge line and minimal food and I had come up a bit late. On the other hand, I probably needed a ticket to be allowed into the lecture hall.
I switched lines. The shorter ticket line moved relatively quickly. Once I reached the front I told the woman my name. She handed me a ticket but before I had touched it, she took it back, explaining that she keeps it. I considered the four open glass doors behind me, the throng of people filling the whole space shoulder to shoulder, the set of doors on the far side of the hall and the food line that extended directly to the door and realized that an RSVP might be optional after all and switching lines was probably unnecessary.
I returned to the exterior door and the end of the food line. The hors d'oeuvres were evidently designed by someone whose previous employment was setting up gags or stunts for Candid Camera. There were the obligatory tiny plates and napkins and the start, followed by small toast slices and tiny lamb meatballs, each with a little toothpick. Tiny and a bit strange, this was normal reception fare. Next came a small bowl of chicken, tomato and olive salad. I scanned the table for forks, but, finding none, I scooped some salad onto my already-filled tiny plate anyway.
The next hot tray contained a few lonely bits of pork and no visible means for removing the pork from the tray and transporting it onto one's own tiny plate. I considered for a moment and, with the end of the food line imminent, and a 2 hour program to follow, I decided I needed to eat. I pulled a toothpick out of a lamb ball and attempted to stab a hunk of pork. The pork promptly fell apart. I tried another, but the first pork chunk was indicative of the lot. I collapsed the next pork chunk before dropping my toothpick into the tray. I could have abandoned the lost toothpick, secure in the knowledge that no one else would be retrieving pork from this tray either, but I didn't think.
As I was trying to fish out the toothpick a caterer appeared. I asked how one might obtain tiny bits of pork without using one's fingers. I didn't mention my failed attempt with the lost toothpick which was abandoned in a thin layer of pork goo at the edge of the pan. The caterer walked back to the front of the line, picked up a tiny toast and scooped me some pork, depositing pork and tiny toast onto my tiny but now highly stacked plate. The answer being that forks were, apparently not an option at this venue. Now that I think about it, maybe the forks were really, really tiny to match the tiny plates and tiny toast and tiny meat. I should have looked under the napkins.
I decided that the mental flexibility required to acquire and then eat one of the baked tomatoes in the next hot plate was too much for me, now that forks had been eliminated as a possible tool in the premises. Unfortunately soggy tomatoes were the last food option before wine. I don't particularly like wine, but as I looked around for other drink options, all I saw was a table with a stack of empty cups next to an array of flowers in a large vase. Perhaps one was meant to scoop the water out of the vase with the cups or maybe just to carry the cups to the bathroom sink. Or maybe the cups were the answer to how one was to consume the baked tomatoes. I decided not to attempt any of these methods but try wine instead. And who knows, perhaps at fancy tiny parties after long ferry rides I might like wine.
I didn't like the wine, but it did lend a beautiful impossibility to the performance art experience of eating soft food with a toothpick while balancing a tiny plate on one's knees and sitting in a snug space in the midst of total strangers.
After collecting my tiny food and wine, I realized that there were no tables or really any place to stand, so I went into the auditorium area with everyone else (and I mean everyone). Since the city hall didn't afford any other place to be, people were sitting in seats lined up for the upcoming lecture. It was about 5:30 when I sat down and awards weren't scheduled until 6. I was one of the last people to sit down and I claimed one of the few remaining seats in the middle of a row between two groups of friends. I had dressed warmly in reaction to the cold ferry and found brief entertainment in removing my coat while balancing food, drink and program and not knocking into any of my neighbors. Luckily I did not have a fork. I suspect a fork would have thrown off the entire operation.
One smart choice by the organizers of the event was to set up a large screen and project a continuous slide show of all the pieces in the show. While we couldn't actually look at any of the work in the exhibition during the reception, we could look at pictures of the work. And, as it turned out, some of the work was easier to see projected about 100 times larger than real-life. The top prize in two-dimensional work was a tiny embroidered portrait by Azalea Rees (the link is not a real site for her, but, sadly, I couldn't find better) that was amazing, but much easier to see and appreciate on the screen than in the gallery with a crowd.
|"Silvan in Thread" by Azalea Rees|
I was also lucky enough to grab a seat with an excellent and unobstructed view of the screen. After dumping my tiny plate (I gave in and just ate with my fingers) and my unfinished wine, I was able to watch the pictures for 20 minutes before I started reading a book on my phone.
|"Life Support" by Steve Parmelee|
|"On his Ridge the Earth Gathers" by Kristen Michael|
One of the nicest things Alfredo Arreguin did during his juror talk was to give honorable mentions to several works in each category. During the juror talk he showed images of each honorable mention and award winner and talked a little bit about why he liked the works. He gave an honorable mention to an excellent Yakima artist, Kristen Michael and to a ceramic artist, Sandi Bransford, who has work in the Emerging Artist Exhibition at Allied Arts in Yakima.
|"Adorned" by Sandi Bransford|
Alfredo Arreguin's juror talk focused primarily on the artists' work, especially the winners and runners up. He was funny and charming, but my favorite thing he said was towards the end of his talk. He told a little story about himself as a young artist, studying with Jacob Lawrence. I don't remember it perfectly, so I may have a few details off, the gist is the same. Jacob Lawrence and a couple other professors were in the process of jurying a show. They saw young Arreguin and told him he should apply because they liked his work. He did and was subsequently rejected from the show. That night, after the bar closed, the depressed Arreguin called them up to complain about not getting in the show. He called the first professor who told him it was 2 am and hung up on him. He called the second professor who yelled at him for calling so late and hung up on him. Then he called Jacob Lawrence who talked to him for 2 hours. Lawrence's advice to Arreguin was to focus on his art and don't worry about not getting into shows or not getting awards or not having everyone like him.
As an artist who had just sat through an hour and half of other people's awards, I appreciated the reminder that awards don't matter. I plan to focus on my work and not worry about what other people think. Well, at least I'll try to do that.