In 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists an unusual piece of art called “Fountain.” It was really just a urinal turned on its side and autographed. The work should have been accepted, since the show was open to anyone who had paid the $1 fee, but it proved too controversial and was rejected. Today that urinal is considered one of the most influential pieces of art ever created because it asks the fundamental question, “What is art?”
And that influence has inspired an exhibition here in the Burg, opening this Friday, March 6. It’s called the unJuried Exhibition – all art work will be accepted, no matter what. Any medium, any object, anything that can be hung on the wall.
If you’re interested in participating, you can still submit: today 11am – 1pm, tomorrow 9am – 11am, and hours TBA on Friday.
I marvel at this idea.
Harrisonburg isn’t some art-starved, culturally bereft city where only a handful of artists ever answer a call for submissions. This place is packed with artistic folks. Locations all around town have no problem finding new art to hang each month, and juried shows with limited space can be extremely competitive – having your work accepted is a pretty big deal when you consider the odds, and so newer artists might have a hard time getting a foot in the door. But, to open the show to anyone, and everyone? All ages, all skill levels, all media? Isn’t that… dangerous?? I mean, what if the Darrin-McHone Gallery gets absolutely overrun with submissions?? What if there’s not enough wall space? What if someone submits a toilet?
I got to ask these and other questions to the show’s organizer, Jon Henry. You might already know Jon as the curator of the Old Furnace Artist Residency, a small house where artists can live for up to a month and experience the Harrisonburg art scene. Jon also collaborates with Larkin Arts for CSArts (Community Supported Arts), a program wherein, similar to a food CSA, people can buy a “share” for a set fee, then receive an original piece of art every month for several months.He’s also working on his MFA at JMU. Now Jon, a man of groundbreaking ideas, has organized this unJuried Exhibition, inspired by Duchamp’s bold submission a hundred years ago and by the idea that “everyone is an artist, and everything is art.”
So I asked him: What if you get too many submissions? What if there isn’t enough wall space? His answer? He’s excited about it. “I’m embracing it,” he said. He sat comfortably behind his laptop, accepting and recording the day’s submissions, looking as calm as a convent, completely unfazed by any calamity I was conjuring in my own mind. Plus, he assured me, other locations would display some of the pieces if Darrin-McHone filled up.
He’s all about inclusiveness. He staggered the submission times each day this week so that everyone would be able to find a time to bring their artwork to the gallery. Additionally, this system encourages diversity, as people with different lifestyles are available at different times of the day. Another interesting facet: there will be no names on the pieces of art unless the artist happened to have signed it already. Each piece will simply be numbered, and patrons can look up the artists’ names in a catalog that the Arts Council will provide. So it’s possible to view most of the exhibit without knowing whose work it is. The viewer can decide when to find out. Not only does this level the playing field and increase the feeling of community, but it creates, as Jon stated, a “visual conversation” not interrupted by labels and unnecessary words.
When Brandy and I were there Monday, there were ten submissions so far: a sculpture, four paintings, four photos, and a mixed media piece. The show opens Friday for the public, and I can’t wait to see how many pieces there are. And if there’s a toilet. Don’t forget: you still have today, tomorrow, and Friday to submit your work and join this party! Check out the FB invitation for updates.
See you there!
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