Having seen two of the major juried shows this summer, the JCDC Fine Arts Festival and the Under 40, it is obvious that a handful of curators and arts administrators are really trying to reposition Jamaican art internationally by improving exhibition standards prevent the formation of a status quo and give it a swift jumpstart. The guest speaker at the opening of The SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year Exhibition, Taynia Nethersole spoke of defending the reputation of Jamaican contemporary art. She mentioned the declaration of one collector in stating that art in Jamaica was stagnating. Imagine that. A breakaway from convention and focus on experimentation and cultural exploration as seen in the works of young artists such as Cleve Bowen, Kereina Changfatt, Paula Daley and Oya Tyehimba, being declared stagnant. Being a young artist myself that statement is a bit of a slap in the face signalling the loss of the faith in young artists that collectors of previous generations had. This is reconfirmed by one of Jamaica’s most prolific collectors, Wallace Campbell, in a recent interview stating that he rarely collected work from young artists however promising. Is this possibly why so few contemporary artists are barely able to earn a minimum from their work or curated contemporary art shows such as the Curator’s Eye receives a scanty amount of visitors or contemporary artists have to prove commercial viability before being able to book a show at top commercial galleries. Quite possibly, and it is a fact the art community has to live with and I suppose somehow we all get on with it. This resilience carries forth in the work that is out there in the galleries such as The Mutual Gallery and the The CAGE Gallery; the continued encouragement and growing quality of art coming from youth artists, self-taughts and art students by the Jamaica Development of Culture Commission.
I must say however that great encouragement comes from the publication of a very well designed and edited volume of The Jamaican entitled classically, ‘The Art Issue’. If my memory is right, it is the only publication to cover so wide a span of Jamaican art in a few years. It may be a bit pricy for the average student or struggling artist but is well worth it at a price of $850. It could just as well be entitled ‘The Intuitive Art Issue’ or ‘The National Gallery Companion’ as it does give the most space to a timeline similar to the curatorial schema of the National Gallery’s permanent collection and the idea of the Intuitive artist. The general avoidance of new directions in our contemporary art, concerns me a bit. I would have loved to have seen a bit more about artists working with printmaking, assemblage, video, photography. fibre arts, performance, drawing etc. Later in the volume however,features on Christopher Clare, who peeked our interest in The National Gallery’s, Curator’s Eye II and Laura Facey’s under-publicized Institute of Jamaica show were included.
Before closing, I am mentioning an item on my Christmas list for the Jamaican art scene: the renaming of the SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year Exhibition/Competiton. Since it is modelled on the Turner Prize, which has since evolved into a brand partially because of its name which is now comparable to the Oscars and Tony’s, why not employ some of its publicity generating strategies. A brand-worthy name is priceless as evidenced by The Art Issue.
Note: For artists who are not yet aware the National Biennial’s Juried section has been merged with the JCDC Fine Arts Festival so next summer presents an opportunity to enter work once more when the JCDC sends a call to artists.
Also remember to see the Under 40 show at the Mutual Gallery and vote for your favourite body of work. Their artists talk is Tuesday August 28th, 2007 at 6pm.
Because I am sure I have stepped on toes feel free to voice your opinion by posting your comments.
Link to a related article in The Sunday Gleaner: