Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Trawick Prize at Heineman-Myers

I had a chance a couple of nights ago to drop in to Heineman-Myers Contemporary Art in Bethesda to get a preview and an early first look at the fifteen artists who have been selected as finalists for The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards.

By Bernard HildebrandtThe work of these 15 finalists will be on display from September 3 – September 27 and the prize winners will be announced and honored on Wednesday, September 3rd at a special press event held at the gallery. The Best in Show winner will be awarded $10,000; second place will be honored with $2,000 and third place will be awarded $1,000. A “Young Artist” whose birth date is after April 11, 1978 will also be awarded $1,000.

First of all let me comment that the work looks great in its new venue and it is a vast improvement from its previous venue.

In Zoe Myer's beautiful and airy gallery, the Trawick Prize finalists get a terrific spot in the thick of Bethesda's traffic and center of fun.

The artists selected as finalists are:

Joseph Barbaccia, Potomac Falls, VA
Ryan Browning, Mount Airy, MD
Lynn Cazabon, Baltimore, MD
Warren Craghead III, Charlottesville, VA
Dawn Gavin, Baltimore, MD
Bernhard Hildebrandt, Baltimore, MD
Kristin Holder, Washington, D.C.
Kay Hwang, Baltimore, MD
Baby Martinez, Washington, D.C.
Maggie Michael, Washington, D.C.
Youngmi S. Organ, Nokesville, VA
Tony Shore, Baltimore, MD
Molly Springfield, Washington. D.C.
Dan Steinhilber, Washington, D.C.
Heide Trepanier, Richmond, VA

Dan SteinhilberAs I've noted before, several names return to the list, and for the first time we see a husband and wife on the list as DC's art couple of Maggie Michael and Dan Steinhilber both made the finalist's list and now will compete head to head.

Several names from the Bethesda Painting Awards list also make an appearance on this list, most notably Baltimore's Tony Shore, who is a past winner.

The entries were juried by Molly Donovan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art; Irene Hofmann, Executive Director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, MD and Leah Stoddard, former Director of Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA.

Depending on who amongst those three is the "leader of the pack" will determine who will win the prize. Five will get you ten that the DC area artists were muscled in by Donovan, Baltimore's by Hoffman and so on. I've been on many "art-by-committee" panels and know how they work. As Jose Marti wrote: "I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails."

This particular jury committee did an outstanding job! The exhibition is among the best Trawick Prize finalists that I have ever seen, and it is an exciting mix of art and conceptual ideas, a little play on kitsch by a couple of intelligent artists and even a touch of what's trendy in the art world today.

The Trawick Prize is ageing like a great port wine and getting better and better each year. The entire Greater DC area owes a huge debt to the very generous Carol Trawick for sponsoring this and other art prizes.

So, if you'll indulge my guessing games, which are sure to piss off a juror or two (no intention to do so is on purpose, but when writers take guesses at what jurors think about, sometimes we step on fragile skins), let me see if I can predict the winner.

If Donovan is the leading voice in the jury panel, then I believe that Maggie Michael will be the winner. Her entry into this exhibition is by far the most complex and interesting work of hers that I have seen to date. In the gallery piece by Michael, she has combined all of her previous elements of poured paint, then peel the layers back and nail some of them, with an interesting distressing of the substrate by drilling a big hole in the center and also by adding a graffiti like spraying on the background. I could be off slightly and Donovan may lead the prize to Maggie's talented husband, Dan Steinhilber.

If Hoffman is the HMFIC in the panel, then all roads lead to Baltimore's Tony Shore, whose brooding works on black velvet play off a working man's view of art as an intelligent and creative play on elevating a kitsch substrate to a high art level.

If Stoddard has the leading voice in the panel, then the prize goes to my good friend and talented artist and blogger from C'ville Warren Craghead III.

In the unlikely event that none of the three jurors has taken the reigns of the jurying task, and they're equally strong in guiding the votes, then all bets are off and we're off to guesslands unknowns.

Fully knowing that I will never, ever be asked to be a juror for the Trawick Prize, here's what I would do if I was the prizegiver in this very good show.

Infinity by Joe BarbacciaA very good look at the shiny, elegant and very sexy forms by Joseph Barbaccia, slowly but surely becoming one of the District's iconic sculptors. What Barbaccia does to contemporary sculpture is a three dimensional version of what Shore does to painting. They are both using kitsch elements and substrates of the contemporary world to create smart and intelligent works of art. Barbaccia's spectacularly gaudy "Every Man's Dream" is a glorious achievement of color and sequins and shininess and it is certainly worth of a very close look for the top prize and perhaps setting this artist's career on an upswing.

Molly SpringfieldDC's Molly Springfield is not only one of the nicest persons that you'll ever meet, but also one of the most amazing talents in the DC area's art scene, and her work is so superbly perfect that we fixate on its tiny imperfections to reassure ourselves of its creation by hand rather than machine.

Molly has been on almost every finalist's list for almost every prize in the area for the last few years, and it's probably due to strike soon.

TrepanierAlthough I am not familiar with Heide Trepanier's work, there's something powerful and exciting about the piece illustrated here, which although tends to remind me a little of some earlier Maggie Michael, nonetheless leaps from it in the way that Trepanier has isolated the paint with lines to almost reveal to us Boschian figures and animals and aliens in her work.

Time is due for a District artist to win. In 2004 David Page of Baltimore, MD was the Best in Show winner of $10,000. The next year, Jiha Moon, then of Annandale, Virginia and now residing in Atlanta, Georgia won the top prize. In 2006 James Rieck of Baltimore, Maryland won top honors and last year Jo Smail from Baltimore, won top honors.

What's up Baltimore?

My top prize would go to Springfield; See my other prizewinners here (scroll down to the bottom).

A public reception will be held on Friday, September 12, 2008 from 6-9pm in conjunction with the Bethesda Art Walk. This is easily the best art show in DC this month - don't miss it!


H&F Fine ArtsBodies of Marvel, Monsters and Women, opens on September 4 through September 28, 2008 at the H&F Fine Arts Gallery located at 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD. An opening reception will take place on Saturday, September 6, from 5-8pm (my birthday by the way).

Curated by Marvette Pérez and Tonya Jordan, "eight women artists explore ideas of the grotesque and otherworldly, the monstrous, the unimaginable, the uncanny, and the strange through painting, woodcut, installation, mixed media, video, photography, and illustration."

Robbi Behr, Deidra Defranceaux, Andrea Meyers, Michelle Morby, Marta Pérez García, Kharlla Piñeiro, Raquel Quijano Feliciano and Lisa-Renee Thompson present work focused on the dark side of the human psyche and the humorous side of the grotesque.