It only happens every other year, and this year it's been upgraded: the 30th Bradley International Print & Drawing Exhibition. "The exhibition focuses on works in the medium of fine arts printing and drawing," explained Pamela Ayres, director of University Galleries, Exhibitions, and Collections.
New Beginnings and Collaborations
This exhibit is thought to be the second oldest of its kind in the United States. "The mission of the Bradley University Galleries is to expand the audience of the visual arts community, as well as promote understanding, appreciation and scholarship of contemporary art," Ayres said. "The Bradley International Print and Drawing Exhibition is a vehicle to achieve these objectives. In 1950, Ernest Freed, then-director of the School of Art at Bradley University, initiated the Bradley Print Show. At that time, it was among the first nationwide juried print exhibitions. The Bradley National is traditionally regarded as one of the oldest reputable print and drawing competitions in the country. The exhibition is an international juried competition created to provide an opportunity for working artists to show in professional gallery spaces."
Ayres said the print medium format, selected by the head of the Bradley University Printing Department, makes sense. "He was the organizer of the project, and it was natural to select works on paper, since that was his expertise. Printmaking, at that time, was often utilized as a way for artists to produce multiples or editions that would be a lower price for collectors than, say, paintings. Also, the prints and drawings used to be sent without framing, so the cost of postage was less expensive for the artist and the patron. This has since changed, as it's more respectful to the works of art not to be directly touched by the gallery staff. We now require all works to be framed."
And as the art world has changed, so have works on paper, she said. "There are experimental things involved with the works, and cross-disciplinary approaches to works in the mediums of drawing, books, arts, and printmaking are being addressed in our modern exhibition. We even have an installation/ book piece by Chicago artist Karen Hanmer that will be installed at the Peoria Art Guild entitled 'It is a Living Thing.' It's made up of 33 printed objects that hang on the wall and are 34 inches by 15 inches each."
Other changes have been made as well. "The exhibition has become biannual rather than annual due to its now-expansive size. For a period of time, an invitational component of galleries, print shops, and educational facilities were part of the exhibition. As the art faculty at Bradley University increase their global emphasis within the curriculum, it's become appropriate to extend the exhibition's vision to the international arts community."
But perhaps the biggest change, in addition to this year's international designation, is that the exhibition also is being displayed at ICC, the Peoria Art Guild, and the Contemporary Art Center. "The Peoria arts community has always been very linked and overlapping. It was just natural that these people and these varied venues would want to grow the size and stature of the exhibition to bring a certain national and internal prestige to the city of Peoria. It's certainly a tribute to them to understand that this kind of cooperation demonstrates to the greater fine art population that Peoria is a place willing to consider cutting-edge contemporary work, as well as traditional work. Hosting this kind of progressive exhibition also reflects on the elevated quality of central Illinois' regional art community."
Jennifer Costa, gallery curator and assistant professor of art at ICC, said the exhibition was a good opportunity to work with the Bradley Art Department and Galleries. "We have many art students from Illinois Central College who transfer to Bradley, and it's good to show them that the arts community is a collaborative community and not a community in which galleries attempt to outdo one another. The exhibition space in Peoria is limited to a handful of galleries, and sometimes Illinois Central College is forgotten by the public when it comes to its ability to host both local and national artists."
Costa said she's hopeful that more joint ventures will happen in the future. "I'm happy Illinois Central College will be a part of the Bradley International, and hopefully, this will be the beginning of great collaborative efforts between the art departments of both Bradley and Illinois Central College."
The Difficult Job of a Juror
The number of quality artists wanting to participate in the show is commendable, Ayres said. "This year, more than 625 artists from England, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, India, China, Japan, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Finland, Germany, Austria, the United States, and Finland sent slides of their works, numbering approximately 1,780 to be reviewed. There were 162 works chosen for this year's exhibition, representing 140 artists. We're pleased at the level of interest nationally and globally in the exhibition and look forward to further communication with our peers internationally."
Judy Collischan, Ph.D, was the juror this year and had the difficult task of selecting the final exhibition pieces from the submitted entries. "Currently, Judy is an independent art consultant and is the former associate director for Curatorial Affairs at the Neuberger Museum of Art, SUNY-Purchase. She also was director of the Hillwood Art Museum and Public Art Program at Long Island University. Her books include Welded! Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, Lines of Vision: Drawings by Contemporary Women, and Women Shaping Art: Profiles of Power. She's also a member of the International Association of Art Critics-American Section and the American Association of Museums. We're very lucky to have her agree to lend her name to our exhibition, as she attracted so many new individuals from all over the world."
Although it may seem like something mystical, Collischan explained that ideally, an art critic's job is to see as much art as possible and speak to as many artists as possible to evolve an informed opinion. "Thoughtfulness and integrity are important, as well as a knowledgeable eye. One must put aside any and all doctrines, other opinions, and extraneous influences in writing an honest and insightful review."
Collischan began her job by viewing many carousels of slide submissions. "Judging art via slides isn't the best way to select meritorious work, but it's the only practical means. My process is to look at every slide once. Then, in this case, I pulled out the slides of the work I liked. When this second round was complete, I put all the pulled slides in empty carousels and looked at them. Then I looked at all the slides left in the original carousels to make sure I hadn't missed anything that should have been included. I went back to the pulled slides and went through them two or three times again to get some sense of what it would look like as a show. Finally, I marked those to be included. The whole process was eased by the fact that Pamela Ayres had done an excellent job of organization."
Collischan became involved with Bradley International through her association with Ayres, who asked her to juror the show. "To me, the quality of the submissions was high. It's really heartening and inspiring to view the range and level of work being produced in this country, as well as in others."
So inspiring, in fact, that Collischan and Ayres had to acknowledge the quality to the artists themselves. "At the conclusion of the jurying process, we sent the slides back to the artists with letters stating our appreciation and admiration of their efforts, both artistically and professionally, with the optimism of seeing their work at other opportunities offered by the Bradley University Galleries," Ayres said.
After the juror process was completed, Ayres went to work curating the selected pieces into the available spaces, based on the Bradley International preview that took place in December. "It's at that time I get to consider the size and look of the works and, taking into account the different qualities and limitations of each of the venues, I decide where the works will be displayed. For me, the installing of the exhibitions and the actual handling of the works is both the most physical and rewarding part of any curatorial experience. I enjoy the challenge of placing work together so that it narrates the intent of the juror and showcases the artists participating."
Ayres said Collischan's skills lend a tremendous amount of international credibility to the exhibition as a cutting edge contemporary show. "Any artist would be pleased to be in the International, but to also be able to cite her on a resume brings artists into a project with strong curatorial premise. Having her involved this year brought the best of the best in this field to learn about the exhibition and Peoria."
The best thing about curating the Bradley International, she said, is interacting with her students and watching their minds open up to all of the work they get to see in slides and in person. "They really begin to embrace all approaches to making art and understand that they're a part of a fertile, prosperous community of artists-unlike the idea of the lone artist in the studio. Artists are visual leaders in our community and are willing to share their work and ideas. All anyone needs to do is look. I see many new leaders in our Bradley students, and I wait with excitement for them make a huge impact on our world though their own work and service in their community."
Ayres encouraged residents to take advantage of the expanded, collaborative Bradley International. "The final installation of the works presents a unique opportunity to central Illinois community members to view current trends in contemporary art." AA!