Is there a disparity between what art students are producing at art school and what is likely to sell in the Jamaican market place? This is one of the central questions considered when the Edna Manley College's School of Visual Arts holds its public art forum Notions of Contemporary Art: Location Jamaica next week. Artists, critics and art historians will form two panels to discuss how we understand contemporary art and how these ideas might differ between artists, galleries and collectors. The forum comes after the success of the National Gallery's Young Talent Exhibition in 2010 and the current Art Fresh 2011 now showing at the Mutual Gallery that showcases work from artists with less than 10 years experience such as Monique Lofters whose work Observation Study is shown here.
A visit to the college's end of year exhibition versus the criteria for participating in Art Fresh 2011 suggests the widening gap between the expectations of such institutions. In college, students are encouraged to experiment, pushing the boundaries of ideas, techniques, media and scale. The result is that many move towards installations that echo a shift away from 2D surfaces to 'off the wall' assemblages and performances popular in galleries internationally. For exhibition in a local gallery where space is a premium however, experimentation is encouraged but the size of work especially for installations is prescribed. The criteria here is a practical one that serves the collector as end-user who more often than not only has a domestic space for display. And scale is not the only issue. Content sometimes, political, sexualized or just ephemeral can also be problematic. A recent collector committed to supporting one of the region's most talented artists lamented that despite spending extraordinary amounts of money to own a piece, the highly conceptual and temporal nature of the work would limit its future viewing. No wonder then that other collectors settle for conventionally packaged art with subjects that presents fewer issues for storage, display or documentation. And no wonder also, that graduates quickly shed their more thoughtful and technically ambitious ideas in favour of art forms that stand a better chance being purchased.