Exhibitions, Competitions, Juried Shows, OH MY!

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an art exhibition, art competition and a juried art show? You will often hear all of these terms used interchangeably, but at the end of the day there is one crucial difference that we shall remark upon here. The difference lies in whether the exhibition is curated, juried or judged.

Curated Exhibitions and Shows

To begin with, a curated exhibition is a group of art work that has been carefully selected by, you guessed it, the curator. The curator has a significant amount of input and control over the final grouping of work shown. Typically, and more often than not, the curator has not only selected the theme and conceptual focus of the exhibition, but they have also titled the show, and selected all of the artists’ work included.

A curated exhibition takes more than just a decidedly firm liking of a particular brand of artwork; it takes forethought, knowledge and time.

Curators can be individuals who work within large scale museum spaces or within smaller galleries and they can also be independent or freelance. A curator may have also studied, deeply, within a particular field of research such as 19th century ceramics, Bauhaus or the Pictorialist Movement. A cohesively curated exhibition is not only well researched, but will also typically give us insight into the curator’s interests both professionally and creatively.  Have you ever been to an exhibition where every piece just seems to better highlight and inform the next? This is what great curators do and why they are highly sought after.

Curators will also oversee how and where the artist or artists work is shown. They will often work directly with the artists’ and venue to “hang the show”.  They may help to arrange artist talks or even give a talk themselves to discuss their vision in constructing the exhibition. They will also be responsible for creating the exhibition catalog.

All things being considered, and perhaps a point of confusion for art world novices and outsiders, the curator may extend a “Call for Art”. S/he may do this in an effort to find previously unseen artists or work or even to garner a fresh perspective in the work, “the work” being the exhibition itself.

Juried Exhibitions and Shows

A juried exhibition or show, on the other hand,  always stems from a Call for Art. The gallery or “exhibition host” or sponsor will issue the call, as well as set the theme or premise for the call. They also select the jurors or judges, who will in turn select artists’  work;  they will select work which best represents the theme or premise of the show.

As with the selection of curators for a curated exhibition, jurors or judges are selected for their knowledge and expertise within a particular area of art. The gallery is not usually not involved in the jurying process but the call for art will speak to the host gallery’s particular interests in working with artists and in their niche or market.

The jury process is often blind, meaning that the jurors do not know who the artists are that have submitted work. In this way, the jury process can be seen as “fair” and perhaps “unbiased” since the juror has not invited (ideally) specific artists to submit to the call with the intention of selecting their work. Jurors may also be responsible for awarding “Best In Show” or rankings of artist work which results in 1st, 2nd, 3rd places (and so on) and “Honorable Mentions” etc.

Once the selection process is complete, the juror’s job is typically complete. The gallery or exhibition host will produce the exhibition catalog, publicity, and work with the artists to hang the show.

A Brief Note About Competitions

Aren’t juried exhibitions or shows the same as competitions?

Yeah, well, my knee jerk reaction to this question is, no. The difference, in my mind, is audience. Whether this is truth or bias, I tend to think that juried exhibitions or shows are targeted toward self-professed, working artists, whether they are working part or full time. While, on the other hand, competitions are for the masses: for the weekend warrior, the amateur or professional etc. For me, the distinguishing factor between a competition and a juried art show is “skin in the game.”

All this is not to say that competitions are bad and juried shows are good. I just think they are different, albeit subtly so. And at the end of the day, technically speaking, a juried show is indeed a competition.

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar





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