(Caroline Russell, “By Air Mail”)

By Betsy DiJulio

As we enter Phase II of the reopening of the economy in the Commonwealth, art centers and museums are maintaining their reinvigorated virtual personas stronger than ever as they simultaneously return to their real-time presence in our lives, albeit with many changes of protocol, staffing, and programming.  

At Norfolk’s d’Art Center, their exhibition, Eccentric, was pushed back three months, but the show goes on.  Because the show installation occurred after the VEER print deadline, I forwent a review in favor of an email Q & A.  (Also, for the sake of full disclosure, two of my paintings were juried into this show and a review would have been inappropriate.)

Taking time to answer my questions were Gallery Manager, Amanda Bradley, who is also in charge of marketing and communications, followed by juror, Alison Stinely, MFA, University of Indiana, Bloomington, and Assistant Professor of Painting at ODU.

Betsy DiJulio:  How did you arrive at the theme for this exhibition?  Is it a personal interest, a response to local, regional, or national trends, a topic that your organization has not presented before, some combination, or?

Amanda Bradley:  Towards the end of October I sit down and map out our entire exhibition schedule for the following year as well as selecting a local club or group to showcase in our gallery for January. I think a lot about what other organizations are doing in our area, and what the public and local artists have expressed interest in seeing when choosing the topics for the exhibitions. Since I took over the management in the gallery in the middle of 2018, we have been exploring new topics and showcasing different artistic mediums here at the Center, both contemporary and sometimes very traditional in artistic style. While exploring these new topics and trends, we have also decided to make some of our exhibitions permanent annual shows.  An example is Persistence, our annual women’s exhibition during women’s history month.

BD: How does Eccentric relate to the context of your other nationally juried exhibitions? They all have punchy one-word titles. I’m sure that was intentional; please tell me about that too.

AB:  I come up with our titles for the exhibitions. It is important to me personally that by reading a title you either get an idea of what you might see when you come to view the show, or that you understand what the theme of the work will be.  When I do the poster designs for each, I keep that same philosophy in mind. Each title has its description attached to give the reader more information if needed, but they are also meant to catch an artist’s eye. For instance I hoped that by naming one of our 2018 national exhibitions, ImPRESSion, printmakers would catch on to the fact that it was a printmaking exhibition.

BD:  Are national juried shows brand new for d’art as of the last few years or an expansion from the organization’s earlier history?  Regardless, how many such shows do you plan for a normal year and is the response robust and growing?

AB:  The d’Art Center had more of a local or statewide focus in the past. National exhibitions, especially in the numbers that we are doing them, are absolutely an expansion from the organization’s earlier history. COVID-19 aside, we had 9 exhibitions scheduled for this year: 1 Member’s Show – Virginia Glass Guild, 1 Statewide, and 7 National. We had 9 last year:1 Member’s Show – Tidewater Turners, 1 Statewide, and 7 National.  Nine is our current yearly goal.

BD:  How did COVID-19 change any and all aspects of this exhibition?  And what have you learned from this experience that will benefit the organization and artists in the future?

AB:  COVID-19 impacted the d’Art Center by closing the Center and its operations from March 17th to June 10th.  During that time three exhibitions were impacted, including Eccentric.  The exhibition was delayed in its opening, from April to June.  We appreciate the participating artists remaining flexible in the timetable for this exhibition and we are excited to present it to the community June 11th – June 27th, with an opening reception on June 18th. The center will be following CDC and statewide regulations during the reception. During the COVID19 quarantine, we have learned two valuable ways to handle exhibitions going forward: providing the exhibition to consumers in a virtual format, and also offering the pieces in the exhibition not only for sale in the gallery, but also on our website under the exhibition tab. You can also purchase art by our resident and associate artists on the Center’s new Etsy page at www.etsy.com/shop/dartcenternfk

BD:  How do you go about making a beautiful show when you have to essentially work with what is submitted and selected by the juror? Where do you start beginning to put it together and make it work, especially in a smaller space?

AB:  Our calls are open calls to artists. I open a call a little more than a month and a half before I want to open a show. I select a (generally local) juror for the show based on their expertise and credentials in accordance with the topic or medium, and then I co-curate with them. In general, the juror makes most of the decisions about what pieces we show, but it is helpful to have a second opinion since what we are working with is photographs.  And when it gets down to the final eliminations, I can work with the juror closely to ensure we have the perfect amount of work to fill our space.  We have been using the same platform and method for quite some time now, and we have acquired a strong base of artists from all over the country who submit to our national shows. As long as everyone has been honest about the size of their work, it all fits nicely, and I install it myself after I unpack it all a week before we open the show!

BD:  Alison, given that the national call was for either work with a surrealistic bent or work that incorporates unconventional materials, what was your main focus as juror?

AS:  I had a great time jurying Eccentric and it was really enlightening to see all of the different ways artists interpreted the requirements outlined in the prospectus. My main focus as juror was to assure that the work displayed a masterful use of material and that the content of each piece left something for the imagination. I think that ambiguity is inherent in surreal work. If the work was banal, too straightforward, or simply unimaginative, it did not make the cut. If the craftsmanship was poor, it did not make the cut. Each exhibition I jury demands a different perspective as the focus of each show varies. Eccentric had relatively broad stipulations. Because of this, I was able to use a rubric that considered content and form – basic and very general concerns – but through a surreal lens.

BD:  As a juror, do you have to be concerned with what the show will ultimately look like—how it will “hang together” if you will—as you are making your selections?

AS: I was not concerned with keeping the exhibition cohesive in any formal sense. Work created using various media and at varying scale have been included in the show. A curator has more latitude to invite artists whose work fits particular criteria to an exhibition and can therefore mount very cohesive exhibitions. When you’re dealing with a national open call, you must work with what you receive which can lead to unexpected and exciting discoveries along the way. This diversity is what will make Eccentric so engaging for viewers. There’s something unexpected within each piece on display.

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Eccentric: A National Exhibition of Surreal Artworks and Unconventional Materials

Through June 27

d’Art Center

740 Duke St | Norfolk | 757.625.4211 | www.d-artcenter.org