Career tracks in the contemporary art world are not simple straight lines. The trajectory is different for each individual, so artists taking their first steps into the professional realm need more guidance. To help the next wave, Mainsite Contemporary Art in Norman established the annual “Emergent Artists” exhibit, showcasing notable newbies.
Showing through Feb. 5, the current crop includes Sherwin Tibayan, Alexandra Knox, Alejandro Bagajewicz, Mike Hill, Geoff Krawczyk and Tara Najd Ahmadi, and features a healthy dose of innovative sculpture, but also two-dimensional work and photography.
Director Christian Pitt said the show is for artists who haven’t had a solo show and create work that is “contemporary,” a category that may be hard to define, but easy enough to spot.
“If you paint flowers on an armoire to make it look antique, that is traditional,” Pitt said. “But if you are painting noses on an armoire, that would take your brain out of the concept of what you would normally see. Something that is thought-provoking that doesn’t create a soft environment for your mind is contemporary.”
That can be Hill’s spindly sculptures that simultaneously appear industrial, tribal and alien, or Tibayan’s striking photos of blank billboards from different environments that play with viewers’ habit of projecting assumptions onto artwork.
“This year, we are heavy on sculpture because the University of Oklahoma sculpture department is so dynamic and are producing amazing work,” Pitt said. “Not to be too nepotistic with OU, but the people who submitted to us all happen to be coming from that program.” It helped that the department encourages students to build the professional foundation of an artist, she added. The art is for sale, so the show has a financial benefit, but the experience is most important.
This is an exercise in professionalism.
“This is an exercise in professionalism,” Pitt said. “Since they haven’t been in a gallery relationship, they might not necessarily know the ins and outs of keeping up your schedule, making sure the work is framed correctly, that sort of thing. ... Finding artists through an open call has been an interesting vehicle for us to learn more about new artists we wouldn’t normally be attached to.”
above Sherwin Tibayan’s “Horror Vacui 4” below Alexandra Knox’s “To Lead a Simple Life”