January is often a cold and restful respite from the holiday swirl. But for 30 artists in the current exhibition at Var Gallery, January was a prodigiously productive month.
With their acceptance into the exhibition entitled 30 x 30 x 30, they faced the task of creating 30 new pieces over 30 days, and the results are now on view — all 900 pieces of art in the cozy environs of Var Gallery.
As most of the pieces are fairly small, the exhibition is dense without being claustrophobic.
There are all kinds of work on view, from the Rorschach-like Sharpie drawings by Cristina Ossers, to the elegant terra cotta relief sculptures of Ben Tyjeski, or the silver gelatin photographic prints of architecture by Sarah Malchow, with their antiqued, nostalgic feeling.
Getting a handle on all of this is the exhibition’s curatorial team of Var Gallery owner Josh Hintz and guest jurors Jason Yi and Michael Davidson, both of whom are established artists.
‘Having faith in each artist to deliver’
The process began by artists submitting proposals and representative samples of their work.
As Hintz explains, “The process of acquiring the submissions is not too difficult at all. Once we have all of our submissions, I select two other curators/jurors to assist in the selection process.”
He adds, “This show is extremely difficult on the artists to execute depending on their practice, so we also consider if it would even be possible for them to make one piece a day based on what they proposed.”
Enter Yi and Davidson as the selection process developed. Yi notes that their decisions were shaped by various factors: “We saw a lot of good work and unfortunately could not select them all because of various parameters of the exhibition.”
Davidson describes the curatorial process as collaborative, as well as open for debate.
“If a work had one backer, that person could make the case for a given work. What I liked about working with Josh and Jason was the integrity and fairness of considering all submissions,” Davidson explains.
So, what was it that caught the attention of the selection committee members?
Yi says, “We acknowledged that we have our biases on aesthetics, but were eager to negotiate and come to a consensus. We were looking for work that visually excited us first and foremost, a type of work that showcased individualism and had unique approaches.“
He adds, “The tricky part was having faith in each artist to deliver on their intentions, since submissions were just proposals and not the actual works that were to be in the 30 x 30 x 30 exhibition, which were yet to be created.”
Variations on a theme
The newness of the artworks and the imposition of a deadline suggests an invigorating sense of improvisation. After all, with deadlines for that much work, you can’t belabor an idea or spend too much time overthinking.
In that way, many of the artists’ submissions are like variations on themes, but with an edge that modulates the idea over time.
Christian Sis, for example, riffs on portraiture, producing a series of faces but with wildly different materials and styles. Some are delicately realized and precise, some waver with abstraction, and some are purely inventive amalgamations of shapes and colors.
While all the works are hanging on the wall, that doesn’t preclude some interesting explorations into sculpture. Angela and Brandon Minga teamed up to produce 30 untitled pieces with a sort of steampunk flair. Tiny motors, wire, bristling pieces and presumably moveable parts makes these like a cast of tiny, futuristic characters.
The art in 30 x 30 x 30 is generally intimate and thoughtful, and not without creative integrity or inventiveness. As Davidson notes, they were “always looking for that spark generated by the question or proposal the work sets up. In other words, is it interesting, and how well does it do what it sets out to do?”
Being tasked with the decision-making process was also part of the excitement of this endeavor, Davidson adds. “For me as a juror, it was fun to look at the variety and share perspectives and insights with both Jason and Josh — two amazing creatives in our art world here in Milwaukee.”
30 x 30 x 30 continues through May 27 at Var Gallery, 643 S. Second St., Milwaukee. For more, go online to vargallery.com.