What's a great way to celebrate a one-year anniversary on the job? If you're Boise Art Museum associate curator Amy Pence-Brown, one way is to announce the 25 artists selected for the 2007 Idaho Triennial and, better yet, to be the juror who selected those artists—something a Boise Art Museum curator hasn't done before.
Since its first occurrence in 1932, what is now the Triennial didn't always happen every three years. Pence-Brown said the history of the triennial was much like many art and cultural events in Idaho's history. For a while, it happened every year, and for some periods, didn't happen at all. In the '70s, the event happened biennially, and in around 1991, following the lead of other museums around the country, it was determined that judging the work of contemporary Idaho artists every three years gave those artists the opportunity to build up more complete bodies of work, and gave the juror or jurors (though it's generally just one) a more cohesive unit to judge. The only requirements for the artists are that they must work and live in Idaho, and the work they submit must have been created in the last three years.
In the past, the juror for the Idaho Triennial has been someone outside of the museum chosen by a curatorial team. Once chosen, the person judges blindly, choosing the work from submitted slides. This year there were two major changes in the judging process. Instead of choosing an outside juror, Pence-Brown chose the work herself. Out of the 249 artists who submitted slides of more than 1,300 pieces of work, she culled the list down to 71. And instead of poring over slides of artists' work, she spent six weeks traveling across Idaho visiting the studios of all 71 artists on the list.
Pence-Brown laid low for the weeks preceding her trip. She didn't want to have any preconceived notions of the artists, though she was familiar with some of their work, and she didn't want them to have any preconceived notions of her.
Pence-Brown also said that prior to her visits, she asked each artist to have a resume and artist statement ready for her. Many of the artists don't have any visitors to their studio spaces. Along with preparing their statements and resumes, she said they were nervous about her visit, and several of them told her they spent a lot of time cleaning and prepping. But when she arrived at each studio, the artists were welcoming. "They had ice tea or cookies for me. It was really very sweet." She said that the artists were "receptive and thrilled" at the idea that someone from the museum would pay a visit. For her, it was an amazing experience. She said some of the artists lived in such remote areas she wasn't sure she'd be able to find them.
She met artists like chainsaw sculptor David Sullivan from Cottonwood who, together with his wife Frances, carves more than 60 different species of dogs, taking custom orders from all over the country. They also built the Dog Bark Park Inn. The inn is in the shape of a giant beagle (dogbarkparkinn.com) and sleeps four humans. The Sullivans have also staged a performance art piece, based on Lewis and Clark's travels as seen through the eyes of Seaman, a dog that accompanied the explorers.
Pence-Brown said the six weeks she spent traveling through Idaho were rewarding, but hard work—and the hardest work had only just begun. She had come to know these 71 artists and, in many cases, been in their homes. Now she had to tell 46 of them that they wouldn't be a part of the 2007 Idaho Triennial.
Pence-Brown had taken a photo of each artist at his or her studio, and when she sat down to the difficult task of writing 46 rejection letters, she included personalized information from her visit with the artist and the photo she had taken. She said one woman even wrote her back saying, "That was the sweetest rejection letter ever!"
At the end of the six weeks, what Pence-Brown, the Boise Art Museum and art lovers around the state have is 75 pieces by 25 Idaho contemporary artists who are as follows (in alphabetical order):
Boise artists: Chris Binion, BOCOLAB, Brooke Burton, Katarzyna Cepek, Michael Cordell, Kirsten Furlong, Charles Gill, Angela Katona-Batchelor, Geoffrey Kruger, Susan Latta, William Lewis, Andrea Merrell, Troy Passey, Dan Scott, Anika Smulovitz
Caldwell: Jan Boles
Hailey: Theodore Waddell
Ketchum: David DeVillier
Meridian: John Reilly
Moscow: Marilyn Lysohir, Gerri Sayler, Todd Votz
Pocatello: Rudy Kovacs, Dennis Proksa, Margo Proksa
The artists work in a wide variety of media, from Brooke Burton's photography to Dan Scott's work in oil to Michael Cordell's metal sculptures to BOCOLAB's robotic sculptures. It is now up to Pence-Brown and BAM to present the exhibit and the accompanying catalogue, working on a theme and a vision. And they have until Sept. 1.
On a personal note, Brooke Burton and Troy Passey have been Boise Weekly cover artists; Charles Gill, Geoffrey Kruger, William Lewis and Anika Smulovitz have all been Idaho Arts Quarterly cover artists; and Sue Latta contributed a piece we use to display current issues of the paper inside our office. Michael Cordell is currently working on the first public art piece commissioned by the Boise Weekly, which will stand outside our offices on 6th and Broad streets.
The 2007 Idaho Triennial Exhibit runs September 1 through November 25. Boise Art Museum, 610 Julia Davis Dr.