The opening reception and awards ceremony for Young Contemporaries 2022 on Friday, March 18 was a wonderful glimpse into the energy of a “return to normal” activity here in the galleries. This annual exhibition is a great opportunity to turn the discussions on our guided exhibition tours to the subjectivity of the jurying process with two activities: Value Judgement Cards and You be the Judge. The activities work best when you are in-person at the exhibition, but the main idea of the Value Judgement Cards can be carried through discussion around a collection of art pieces anywhere. You can try them out with the artwork and decorative pieces you have around your home. In this blog post, I’ll share how the two activities are used with our tour groups. You can do these activities with your own class or organization, or with friends and family.
The Value Judgement Cards are a great way to slow down and acknowledge the “why” behind our initial reactions to and opinions of whether we think a piece of art is “good” or if we “like” it. There are only two rules for the Cards: the reason for your choice can never simply be “because” and if you can explain your opinion, you aren’t wrong. Unlike the binary “good vs. bad” assessments we can easily (but incorrectly) read into the work that is submitted to the Young Contemporaries exhibition, there is no “right” answer for these cards, there is no single winner in this game. We all win because we are learning something new about ourselves and each other.
For tour groups in the galleries, we give each student their own set of cards, and they drop the card for their opinion on the floor in front of the artworks that is the best match. When everyone is finished, we talk through some of the differing votes as a group. You can borrow a set of cards for your family of friends group when you visit our galleries OR you can print the above image and cut out the cards to do this activity with objects around your home. What about this piece makes you think it would take a long time to create? Why do you not like this other one? Why would this other object fit in so well in your home? The discussion (or debate) is the best part.
After you have some practice at thinking through your assessments of artwork, let’s think about the idea of judgements from another angle. The Young Contemporaries juror for 2022, artist and educator Ron Bechet, not only chose the pieces that would be included in the exhibition, but also the pieces that would win awards. His choices may be different from your own, especially if you just spent some time analyzing the pieces in the show with your Value Judgement Cards and you’ve got a newfound appreciation for something you initially dismissed. Now is the time to share more opinions! Hand out some awards using the image above. On our exhibition tours, we give students a clipboard, pencil, and the list of award categories above. They go through the exhibition a second time and make selections based on their informed opinions. We begin our discussion around anyone that agreed with the juror on their selection for a particular award, then ask for opinions that differed. As always, the important question “Why?” is very important. It’s always interesting to hear that two students agree that a piece should get an award, but their reasoning is very different.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my big lesson here is that there are MANY ways we place value on art, and everyone approaches artwork with their own unique set of experiences, skills, and preferences. Each assessment is valid, just make sure you take the time to think about the “why?” Here at the Halsey Institute, we often select our exhibiting artists based on their social, educational, and innovative artistic value. Since our members and supporters’ donations ensure we can remain free admission, we do not have to show only rock star, big name artists to meet admission sales revenue. As a non-profit, we don’t tend to factor in the selling price of artwork, instead focusing on the social and cultural discussions that can happen in public programs and tour groups. Is the artist wrestling with a relevant societal issue? Do they have a new and imaginative way of framing this discussion? Is this an underrepresented voice in the contemporary art realm?
We hope to host a group of your friends or family in the galleries for a fun and enlightening discussion soon!
By Lizz Biswell, associate director