Arts & Entertainment, Gallery Beat

Hey, DMV Museum Curators & Directors! Show our local talent some LOVE!

By F. Lennox Campello

Those of you who are regular readers of this column know that one of my constant concerns is the poor relationship between DC museum area curators and DC area artists, and the rarity of interest by most DC area museum professionals in their own area’s art scene and artists.

Like anything, there are notable, but rare, exceptions, the most important and notable of them being the Trawick Prize, sponsored now for several decades by the amazing Carol Trawick.

And one of the unexpected benefits of the Trawick Prize and the Bethesda Painting Awards has been that they have “forced” the hired DC, VA and MD museum professionals and curators that they often hire to jury the prize, to look at the work of artists from the region.

As a result, some amazing success stories have spawned from that exposure. Area artists should be very grateful to Ms. Trawick for all that she has done and continues to do for the fine arts around the capital region.

At American University’s beautiful Katzen Museum, its hard-working director Jack Rasmussen has orchestrated a show through March 19 titled “The Trawick Prize: 20th Anniversary Emerald Award.”

The show celebrates the impact of The Trawick Prize for Contemporary Arts, which as I have noted, is a “local” visual arts prize that honors artists from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia in an annual juried competition.

Now in its 20th year, the prize was established by Bethesda, Md.-based community activist and philanthropist Carol Trawick in 2002. To date, The Trawick Prize has awarded over $300,000 to local contemporary artists and has exhibited the work of more than 200 artists who reached the level of finalists in each year’s competition.

This exhibition presents the work of artists who were awarded the “Best in Show” in the competition over the last 20 years, and features contemporary paintings, sculptures, film, mixed media, and many others.

The exhibition features artists working in a variety of media including sculpture, painting, mixed media, film, and more. Works from artists such as my good friend Jiha Moon, James Rieck, and many others will be displayed in the galleries. Themes “span a range of concepts important to each artist from race, oppression, and genealogy to culture, humanity, and emotion to name a few.”

In the words of Carol Trawick “there is no need to travel to see great art, there are numerous talented artists right in our backyard!”  This year, the juried competition resulted in selecting “the best of the best” over the past 20 years, awarding artist WonJung Choi with The Trawick Prize Emerald Award.

Featured artists: Lauren Adams, WonJung Choi, Richard Cleaver, Larry Cook, Oletha Devane, Neil Feather, Mia Feuer, Caroline Hatfield, Lillian Hoover, Gary Kachadourian, Cecilia Kim, Maggie Michael, Jonathan Monaghan, Jiha Moon, David Page, James Rieck, Jo Smail, and Lomax & Wickerham

But getting back on subject and generally speaking, most of the DC area museum curators and directors, with the rare exception of American University’s Jack Rasmussen, still find it easier to catch a flight to another city to look at an emerging artist’s work from that city, than to take a cab to a DC area artist’s studio or visit a local gallery. I think part of this is because, again with an exception here and there, most of these curators came from other parts of the nation and overseas, and they tend to bring their regional familiarities with them, rather than discover new ones (it takes a lot of work).

They are also part of a curatorial scene where little risk is taken, and the herd mentality reigns supreme. As a result, one can count in one hand the number artists (local or otherwise) who have had their first ever museum show (or any museum show) in a DC area museum. And yet, even major museums (such as the Whitney in New York) have given artists their first-ever museum solos, although this is becoming rarer and rarer.

The rarity of local focus is also caused partially because of the fact that DC area museums generally tend to think of themselves as “national museums,” rather than as “city museums.” We have no Washington Museum of Art.

Furthermore, because of the sad lack of coverage by the DC local media of the DC local art scene and events, museum professionals have to spend more personal time (which they often lack) to “learn” about DC area artists and galleries, rather than learning from reading, as they do about what’s going on in NYC and LA and Miami and Seattle from the national magazines, or perhaps the coverage that those cities’ news media gives to their local arts, and even from reading the Washington Post’s writers’ coverage of other cities’ galleries and museums.

And thus it takes an “extra” effort on the part of a DC museum curator to get his or her interest aroused on any event in the local scene. Some of it is networking (a big name museum donor requests a visit to a gallery or a studio), some of it is financial (they are paid to jury a show), some of it is media-driven (such as the rare positive review in the even rarer news media coverage) and some of it is accidental (such as a curator admiring the work of a “new” artist in a LA gallery only to be told that the artist is a DC artist).

All of these have happened in my experience… the more you know.

About the Author: F. Lennox Campello’s art news, information, gallery openings, commentary, criticism, happenings, opportunities, and everything associated with the global visual arts scene with a special focus on the Greater Washington, DC area has been a premier source for the art community for over 20 years. Since 2003, his blog has been the 11th highest ranked art blog on the planet with over SIX million visitors.

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