DEADLINE: February 15, 2015 at 11:59:59 p.m. EST
EMULSION is back! East City Art’s own juried exhibition returns to Gallery O on H this March, providing area artists with a unique opportunity to exhibit their artistic prowess. Like our first exhibition in late 2013, EMULSION 2015 features cash prizes for the top three works, two people’s choice awards and the opportunity to showcase work in a professional setting. The competition is open to artists residing within 50 miles of East City Art Media’s Headquarters on Capitol Hill and we are excited to announce this year’s juror will be the incomparable Adah Rose Bitterbaum, owner and director of the Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD. She sat down with me recently to discuss her approach to jurying and why she’s excited to participate in this year’s event.
Adah Rose – you are very quickly on a first-name basis with her — in many ways represents the antithesis of the rarified image many gallerists cultivate. Warm and approachable, she exhibits a passion for art which she’s eager to share, whether you’re a well-heeled collector or just a causal visitor. While her artist roster is national in scope, Bitterbaum is committed to bolstering the local arts community by not only showcasing regional artists in her brick-and-mortar gallery, but also taking them on the road to major art fairs around the country. The day we spoke she had just returned from exhibiting at the Pulse Contemporary art fair, one of the satellite fairs at Art Basel Miami, where her roster included Baltimore-based Jim Condron and Randall Lear, a recent MFA recipient from American University. The two painters were exhibited alongside sculptor Jessica Drenk, with Bitterbaum noting “I thought it would be interesting [pairing] Randall and Jim who are ‘sculptural painters’ with Jessica Drenk’s sculptures.”
That curatorial instinct – the notion that bringing certain works together creates a harmonious vibe more impactful than the individual works alone – results from a lifetime of looking at, and thinking about, modern art. Curiously though, her entry into the DC art world happened serendipitously. While her background is in law, she was moved to apply for a director position at the Studio Gallery in 2007 by an ad on Craigslist. A similar chance encounter with an artist in 2011 tipped her off to the vacant space that now hosts her namesake gallery. In the time since, she’s managed not only to build a stable clientele, but also greatly expand the gallery’s reach via fairs such as Pulse Miami, Pulse New York and the Silicon Valley Art Fair. Her curatorial endeavors extend across the region, with groups such as the Maryland Federation for the Arts and the Northern Virginia Community College.
One-off projects aside, the aesthetic she cultivates within her gallery is as deeply intentional as it is ethereal. While it is clear she is moved by pattern, repetition and (often) text-based works, the works themselves cannot be pigeon-holed into a particular style or –ism. “I love seeing the work in the work,” she tells me, meaning works that display an artist’s process of manipulating the materials or working though a specific concept resonate with her. She also has an affinity for language (perhaps that’s her law background shining through) and loves when works subtly reference literature or otherwise engage with the power of language. A quick look at her artist roster – featuring local artists like Mei Mei Chang, Jim Condron, Pat Goslee and Gary Kachadourian – bears out this curatorial premise.
Pointing out her curatorial sensibilities should not dissuade artists with different aesthetics from applying for EMULSION. On the contrary, I merely highlight her curatorial desires to point out the unique differences between curating an exhibition and judging a show; they are not two sides of the same coin but two completely different currencies. To jury a show means to leave all preconceived notions at the door, something Bitterbaum seemingly relishes. She tells me she has no set criteria when it comes to judging a show, preferring to examine the entrants with a clean mental slate. Noting that her taste in art has actually broadened as a result of opening a gallery, she relishes the chance to see the work of artists she hasn’t encountered before. One intriguing facet of EMULSION is that it is open to all media – from painting to performance. This leads to an interesting conundrum – how does a juror differentiate between and judge disparate works? For Bitterbaum, the process isn’t so much about contrasting different media, but looking for artists that exemplify their particular craft. The icing on the cake for her is the fact that this event takes place in a venue she hasn’t experienced, giving her yet another opportunity to parse out how works might interact in a foreign space.
For a jurist, Emulsion presents a unique look at the state of the DC arts community. Given that Bitterbaum has been immersed in the DC arts community for many years, she’s in an excellent position to qualify the characteristics that highlight the uniqueness of our community vis-à-vis other enclaves around the country. To her mind, the DC and Baltimore arts communities have an incredible richness of artists who present a very DIY aesthetic, belied by the fact that we have high-quality art schools like MICA, George Washington University and the American University. She notes the local artist community has developed that DIY spirit almost out of necessity, given the disconnect between our large, national institutions and the local arts community. Running a traditional, for-profit gallery is difficult these days (hence the appeal of art fairs) and as galleries in DC have shuttered, artists have stepped to into that vacuum, creating their own spaces and running their own shows. In a town known worldwide for its huge institutions, these local activities don’t always receive the attention they deserve. For Bitterbaum, events such as EMULSION play a critical role in disseminating our local talent to a larger audience. To that end, she’s agreed to display works by the winning artist in some capacity at her own gallery. So come on DC and Baltimore artists, she’s looking forward to your entries!