When one of the world's great museums opens its doors to the artists of the region, one has come to expect an intellectually and aesthetically stimulating exhibition--our culture is deep in northeast Ohio. Instead we were treated to a wall of geometric abstraction (individually good pieces, but mounted like a hapless row of weary soldiers), an empty chest freezer (it is said that the main element of the piece failed to work), and a screaming acolyte (ultimately turned down or off to the satisfaction of most visitors). Moreover, the space was crowded and the work scattered hither and yon around the museum (Ah, the perils of museum expansion).
Worst of all, in a fit of inexcusable chutzpah, the chosen artists were annointed by the museum's marketing mavens as the "top," "best," "most creative" artists of northeast Ohio. Oh, the slander of it all! Was it not enough to say that they were among the most creative? When so many others were passed over?
The show began with a worthy premise. In his catalog essay for The NEO Show, Juror Jeffrey Grove, Weiland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and former curator of contemporary art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, posed the question:
He then proceeded, however, to dismiss "regionalism" as a worthy goal in this process, proclaiming first that:
Then later asserting:
This surely is the first wrong turn for the NEO Show jurors [Jeffrey Grove; Jane Farver, director of the List Visual Arts Center at M.I.T; and Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY]. Query: were these NEO jurors so preoccupied with avoiding a codification of practice, that they eliminated out of hand some of the best practitioners of the region? Was presence in any former CMA May Show a negative attribute that automatically disqualifed some artists? Bizarre as it may sound, there is some local support for this view.
Mr. Grove continued:
And this is where the jurors of The NEO Show made their second wrong turn; lost the opportunity to truly connect the region to the world; and failed "to present the work of [the region's] artists in a manner that best supports their individual efforts and needs."
In an earlier century, Howard Gardner emphasized the importance to the "exemplary creator" of moving to one of the great metropolitan centers to exchange ideas, share enthusiasms and develop networks of support and recognition. Creating Minds. NY: BasicBooks. 1993. This is not a surprise to artists trained in northeast Ohio, who have felt the pull of New York City and Chicago for both inspiration and career development.
It was inevitable that this must be so. In the twentieth century, communication was slow, and transportation even slower. To have work seen, there needed to be galleries; moreso since the use of four-color printing was time-consuming and expensive; and slides were scarcely adequate. But because the"moneyed" part of the art crowd preferred to buy work in New York City; galleries, too, were challenged to thrive in our fair region.
Further, to share innovative ideas, face to face was the only way. There was no other satisfactory way to communicate on a weekly, daily, or moment to moment basis. To succeed, most fine artists (those not engaged in education; or in layout, greeting cards, or industrial design) needed to make the trek to NYC.
It truly is a different world now. Just read Thomas L. Friedman's: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. In the twenty-first century, you can be a local player from Bangalore, India or the Zhu Jiang Delta, China. Achieving location is no longer our greatest challenge. Our greatest challenge now is to promote the engaged imagination.
In other words, let us recognise that northeast Ohio no longer needs to be relegated to "the hinterlands." Northeast Ohio is positioned in the very center of things--"the centerlands" if you will--but only if we are willing to accept the challenge. The NEO Show jurors did not accept the challenge; and instead eliminated many of the best, most creative artists of northeast Ohio from view (It is no excuse that CMA faced horrific time and space constraints--cancelling one scheduled show after another).
The NEO Show jurors could have selected 200+ artists (as it did in the 1980s), or even 500, and shown some in virtual galleries on the Interent, and on flat screens around town (my own proposals to CMA). More people around the city, around the region, and around the globe would have seen those 200, 500 or even 1,000 artists than ever saw any of the artists of any former May Show (Having been a May Show exhibitor in 1988, 1989 and 1990--I did not submit for NEO--I speak from experience).
So how can the Cleveland Museum of Art participate actively in the arts of its region and present the work of its artists in a manner that best supports their individual efforts and needs?
> Simply recognise that we now live in a highly interconnected world, and the current Internet is merely a foretaste of how art will be seen and experienced in the future. And unimagined innovations are yet to follow. The time to embrace the future is now!
The Digital Museum of Modern Art started the process with Salon des NEO Refuses. The organizers of NEO+One followed (it's website: www.neoplusone.com - is now defunct).
All artists of northeast Ohio who submitted work to The NEO Show are now invited to send their work to DMOMA for the new, inclusive Salon NEO. This includes The NEO Show artists themselves; and it includes the NEO+One artists. And certainly it includes every artist who was rejected.
In these halls, if you proclaim yourself an artist,
and mustered the resources to make an NEO submission, you may continue
to send your work. Let your peers--and the world--be your jury.
- W. Logan Fry, Director