Jury it up!

A few years ago, a self-defense class typically was a group of women kicking an assistant dressed like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in that “special place” while screaming, “No!” A more updated self-defense workshop offered by the martial arts club Hwa Rang Do/Tae Soo Do took place Thursday night in McPhee’s wrestling room.

Story by Eric Christenson

On Tuesday, the Foster Gallery was a mess.

With paintings and prints propped against the white-painted walls, sculptures on pedestals, huge wooden installation pieces not yet standing and nothing labelled, Gallery Director Tom Wagener had his work cut out for him.

“We have an idea of how works go in a typical show where you have all painting or all prints or all sculpture, but this is always the hardest show to put on,” he said. “There’s a lot of work and then making it cohesive.”

Wagener and his assistants were setting up for the 55th annual Juried Art Show, a Foster Gallery exhibition where UW-Eau Claire students’ work gets evaluated by a juror who selects enough pieces to put on display in the gallery.

The juror then awards first, second and third place (as well as five honorable mentions) to the student works.

Wagener said the set-up process is strenuous because every medium is represented from photography to sculpture, multimedia to installation, painting to
graphic design.

This year’s juror is Libby Rowe, a professor of photography at University of Texas-San Antonio.  Wagener said Rowe travelled to Eau Claire and gave a lecture on Friday about her own work. Rowe and Wagener then “sequestered” themselves in the gallery, choosing which works would be featured in the show.

Wagener said out of 178 student works, Rowe selected 76 to be in the show and picked her winners and honorable mentions which will be announced at the opening
reception on Thursday.

Senior Brianna Holbeck, who has some ceramic work in the show, said the process of creating a piece and getting it in the show is tough, but it’s rewarding to have it shown off.

“This is what comes of all this hard work,” Holbeck said.  “This is our chance to show Eau Claire and the community what we can do.”

The juried show is unique in that the art faculty play a very small role in getting the students’ work on display.

“The faculty don’t really have anything to do with the jurying process; they have more to do with working with the students and getting the work ready,” said Ned Gannon, assistant professor of illustration.  “We don’t prepare the students with the juried show in mind, except for reminding them, ‘Hey, this piece is really strong. You might want to think about framing this in time.’”

Gannon said that professors will generally suggest or recommend the juror for the show, but the decision falls on the gallery committee whether or not to connect with the
recommended juror.

Senior Rachel Gasque said she looks at the juried show as an opportunity to practice the way her work is presented.

“The presentation is what we’ve been focusing on a lot lately; presenting our work in a way that would be acceptable in the show,” Gasque said. “It’s been an accumulation of all my work.”

Gannon said another way faculty contribute is by making students think about presenting their work in public.

“We’re always trying to prepare them for exhibitions,” Gannon said.  “That hopefully is one of their ultimate goals.  It’s also good practice to understand the relationship
between audience and maker.”

It’s certainly a stressful time, Wagener said, but despite the pains of setting up large-scale installations — getting the perfect lighting or making sure paintings are level — it’s
worth it.

“It’s always a lot of fun, (there’s) a lot of energy,” Wagener said.  “A lot of people come to see what the students are up to.”

The 55th Annual Juried Art Show runs from April 5-22 in the Foster Gallery and the opening reception is tonight at 7:30 p.m., where the winners and honorable mentions will be announced along with Art and Design scholarship recipients.