This week I was a member of the seven person panel judging entries for the National Biennial IV exhibition scheduled to open at the National Gallery of Jamaica in December. To ensure fairness, panel members were selected from diverse areas of artistic life with artists, curators and others having equal say. Yet, it was interesting to note how much consensus there was about what art pieces qualified for this high status exhibition. It was also good to argue about the merits and demerits of artworks without feeling that our critiques would engender bitterness or feelings of victimisation. The process of judging which was in turns reflective, lively, argumentative, humourous and serious brought home the fact that forums where one can discuss art in this open and honest way are limited in Jamaica and that perhaps our art product is suffering as a result.
The art work submitted to the juried section of the exhibition comes from those artist who have not yet achieved invited artists status. Typically these are younger artists, amateurs or professional artists, trained and untrained, who are still building their careers and artistic credentials. Unlike the more experienced invited artists who are given the benefit of curatorial advice, the entrants to the juried section are left to their own devices to determine what they submit. Yet, these are the artists who need guidance the most, and their varied range of uncurated works offered a good sense of the state of art in Jamaica today. Without singling out any one artist or genre, the body of work we viewed demonstrated this lack of focus and the need for more critical thinking and discussion about art so that artists can better articulate and demonstrate their aesthetic concerns. Being part of this panel made me wish for other forums where we might safely exercise judgement without fear of offense or repercussion. No doubt, the National Gallery will combine these works with those of its chosen artists and create an exhibition to meet its usual high standards but the works that we rejected last week still speaks to a disparity between the National Gallery's desire for excellence and an undermining sense of apathy.