GALEX 41: Is it national?

 

By Paulette Thenhaus

 

I’m starting with the basic information about this year’s 41st GALEX. The GALEX is billed as a National Competition/ Exhibition, yet 21 of the 38 works selected to participate are from Illinois. In fact three award winners are from Galesburg, while a fourth is from neighboring Monmouth. Of course this is probably all coincidence, but did I mention the juror, Jeremy Long, now teaching at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, was recently a resident artist at Knox College? A few years back when there was a California juror — Voila! — entries arrived from the West Coast and got awards. About a decade ago a Chicago gallery owner/juror encouraged his stable of artists to enter. No surprise where the awards went. It is one way to get fresh art into town, if the prospectus mailing fails in recruiting out of state artists.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was the fact that there is only one sculpture. One. “One Thing Leads to Another,” by Galesburg sculptor Robert J. Reed, got the Sculpture Award hands down. Another first in 41 years is the granting of Kent Leasure Memorial Fine Print Award to a photograph, “Gibson Woods,” by John Vellenga. The “Fine Print” award has originally and always been reserved for prints on paper, such as lithographs, serigraphs, etchings, etc. Never for photographs. Of course, back when it was established, digital “prints” weren’t even a question. (Hope nobody’s rolling in their grave over this one.)

I don’t have much to write about the exhibit because I’ve seen much of it before. Four of the award-winners I’ve seen in other area exhibits that I’ve reviewed at length already. As a whole, all of the work is technically proficient and accomplished. No innovations or wild paint here. In a way it has a “back to the basics” sensibility that Midwestern art is known for (but remember, this is supposed to be a national show).

Looking at the juror’s statement doesn’t really assist in understanding his choices. It reads like a dogma against contemporary art. Out of about 200 words, only about fifteen are directed toward the artworks at hand and none mention a specific piece. The single sentence reads: “The work selected for this year’s GALEX juried exhibition makes serious attempts at being truly original and thought provoking work full of metaphoric content.”’ I myself need help with the “metaphoric content,” especially in the Grand Award winner’s brown and green painting of a monster plant overtaking what I guess is a studio. It is academic and, at worst, banal. There are several other works that merit this response, but let the viewer decide.

On the other hand, California artist Siddharth Parasnis’ “Midwest” is a lustrous small gem of a painting. Space is defined by thick slabs of paint in brick red, cobalt and yellow ochre. Ragged edges of paint effectively convey fading and peeling. “Midwest” is representational of lots and vacant brick buildings everywhere in the Midwest, yet it is highly abstract in its structure. If this is what Jeremy Long means by “truly original and thought provoking” than we agree on this one. It received the Purchase Award.

GALEX 41 is on view at the Galesburg Civic Art Center, 114 E. Main St., through April 7th.

 

3/22/07