Adam Gildar is the owner and director of Gildar Gallery in Denver, Colorado. Opened in 2012, the gallery has been recognized for its program that showcases emerging contemporary artists and works to expand the legacies of important historical figures from across the US and internationally. Recently Gildar contributed writing and an interview with founding members of the Drop City artist community to the catalog for the Walker Art Center’s traveling exhibition Hippie Modern: The Search for Utopia. Gildar is also currently the director of ArtPlant an artist residency organization dedicated to cultural exchange. Through ArtPlant he co-curated the 2015 Biennial Ambassadors artist exchange program and exhibition for the Biennial of the Americas.
Take it away, Adam!
I was recently asked by the people at Tieton Arts & Humanities to contribute something interesting about my background for this post. In the absence of any specific questions I immediately felt the weight of a blank page or canvas, as it might pertain to this juried exhibition. I think this is why I am not an artist. I see artists as people who are skilled at confronting emptiness and asking themselves the important question, what is worth adding, or maybe more accurately, what is worth asking? As unpracticed as I am, this seems a good place to start. What questions are worth asking myself that might be of value to the artists submitting to the 10x10x10Tieton open call?
The first question that comes to mind is why was I asked to be a juror for this exhibition?
While only the wise people at Tieton Arts & Humanities can truly answer this, I’ve had my hunches. Currently I own and direct a commercial contemporary art gallery and I’m also the director for an artist residency program called ArtPlant, both in Denver. When I was asked to be a juror for 10 x 10 x 10, I was curious which aspect of my professional background was most valuable – the dealer or the public servant?
Asking binary questions is a natural inclination. It simplifies complex things – this or that – yes or no. There’s a deep security in knowing a correct answer exists. This is probably why multiple choice problems were always my favorite on tests. The thing is, what I find so compelling about working in the arts is that it is a space at once deeply insecure and also profoundly safe. It is a space of autonomy that embraces the full spectrum, the in-betweenness of things, a space where ultimate assurance is traded for ultimate freedom. As Sol Lewitt put it, it is a space in which artists “shouldn’t question wether it is permissible to do one thing or another.”
Taking this open space approach, perhaps it’s my hybridity that makes me valuable to the you artists who are submitting work. Coming from both a commercial gallery and the non-profit sector, I’ve had the privilege to work intimately with a number of great artists, to witness variations in practices that come from sustained inquiry. Whether selling the work or commissioning it, I’m the person tasked with asking how will this art be received by an audience? I haven’t found a successful rubric for determining this answer yet. This is a good thing. If I could quantify and systematize what makes for effective art, it would be everything else that is not art. Which brings me to another potentially relevant question.
How will I be evaluating submissions?
If you haven’t picked it up yet, one of the things I love about art is that it is allowed to be unresolved. I don’t think great art needs to have a nice bow tied around it. While artists may improve upon the field of historical art practice, and I deeply value work that does, I feel great works also leave something to chew on, something beyond the intellect. Masterful works will even make me question fundamental aspects of myself as a human being. This is not good news to artists who are seeking outside validation through the jury process, since you’re essentially always aiming at moving targets — people — what I find important today, may not captivate me in the future. Conversely what seems meaningless now, I may find immensely poignant down the road. A vote for or against a work could essentially all be a matter of timing. Not exactly reassuring answer, I know.
But that’s the truth. Art is subjective by its nature. While I tend to hold my opinion in decent regard given years of looking at art and working with artists, mine is not the final judgment. There are endless opportunities for appeal in art history. Still I don’t want to completely dodge the question, especially since I asked it. The mysteries within art are profound, however, the opaqueness surrounding many of the mechanisms of the art world shouldn’t be, including how you’re being judged.
So what does this mean specifically during the jurying process? Because I’m looking for something outside comprehension, I’ll approach this like a physicist attempting to describe dimensions beyond our perception — I’ll describe around it. Here’s what I’m not looking for. I don’t much care how perfectly someone draws or paints a figure or landscape or patterns or a tree. I have no problem with beauty and the sublime, but I need more from my art than illustrating what I already know and value. If I want to look at a tree, I’ll go look at a tree. I want to be moved by art, I want the tree that becomes more than a tree, something that punctures my expectations through concept and style. I want to be challenged, elevated, frustrated, heartbroken, tickled, uncomfortable. On the other hand there’s plenty of one dimensional shock in my daily trips through the internet wormhole. I look for art that transcends the MEME that gets a laugh, or points out some obvious injustice, or makes me feel nostalgic for a bygone era. Also, the intensity of labor that was put into an object, is not necessarily a metric for quality. I don’t care how long it took you to make it as long as it does something to me. Also, I tend towards the ugly over the pretty. It’s not a rule, but I like that you have to work to love something ugly. As Jean Cocteau said “Art produces things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.” Ultimately what I’m getting at is I’ll be looking for art that contains multitudes within a very small space of 10 x 10 x 10in, art that regardless whether the means are spare or highly wrought will leave me asking more complex questions than I came here with.