ArtsMemphis will host an opening reception Monday, February 18th, 5:30-7:30p.m. for the "Emmett O’Ryan Award Group Exhibition." This exhibition features the work of 12 past nominees and winners of the Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration.
O’Ryan, a founding board member of Metropolitan Bank, was an avid art collector and artist. Since 2011, the “Emmett” is given annually to an emerging artist recognized for his or her work and promise for future artistic significance. Nominees for the award were selected from local arts organizations. The only criteria that the arts organizations have to consider when choosing their one nominee is that the artist is emerging in their field and engaged in the community. A committee of Metropolitan Bank staff members and a member of O’Ryan’s family will vote on the artist to receive the Emmett. The selected artist will receive a $2,000 cash prize.
This year's nominees and their nominating arts organization are Thomasin Durgin - UrbanArt Commission; Eli Gold — Crosstown Arts; Andrew Meers — The Metal Museum; Bill Price — Memphis College of Art; Jared Small — Memphis Brooks Museum; and Alan Spearman — Indie Memphis.
Past winners of the award that are included in the exhibition are Mary Catherine Floyd (2011) and Anthony D. Lee (2012). Past nominees that are also in the show are Logan Hirsch, Brian Pera, Eszter Sziksz, and Amy Hutcheson.
It is a good thing for the visual arts community that ArtsMemphis is host to exhibitions such as this. They also accept proposals from area artists to have exhibitions of their own work. The more venues available to artists to showcase their work, the better. Also, it is amazing that a local institution such as Metropolitan Bank would initiate a cash award for visual artists based on the merits of their work. I applaud Metropolitan Bank for honoring Emmett O’Ryan’s passion for art with this award. Every organization in Memphis should follow Metropolitan’s lead with their own version to recognize visual artists, either with a cash prize and /or exhibition. $2,000 given out once a year is nothing to these organizations but it means everything to an emerging artist.
However, I do have a problem with the term “emerging,” especially in the context of this year's nominees. What exactly does this mean? Does emerging have some predetermined set of requirements such as the artist’s age or number of exhibitions held of their work? Does emerging mean not yet represented by gallery or could it apply to an artist that just started making work in their 50’s after a career as a chef, accountant, or politician?
When I look at this year’s list of nominees, and those of previous years, I do not think very many of them are emerging artists. Underrepresented, underappreciated perhaps but definitely not emerging. Jared Small, Eli Gold and Anthony D. Lee are included in the "Present Tense" exhibition at the Dixon, an exhibition of “outstanding works that inform, provoke, and excite the imagination of the city that inspired them.” Can an emerging artist be a part of such a discussion? Also, in April, Small will have his third solo exhibition at the David Lusk Gallery, exhibitions that almost always sell out. His work is included in over 20 public and private collections of banks, investment and law firms and across the country from San Francisco, Nashville, and Raleigh, NC. If this qualifies as emerging, I am still in pre-school.
Price has taught at the Memphis College of Art since at least I was a graduate student there, 2007-2008. Can a professor responsible for educating, inspiring, and motivating the next generation of visual artists themselves be an emerging artist? If I were Price, I would consider such a label insulting.
In the case of this and any similar award that recognizes an upcoming artist that artist should really be upcoming. Parameters could be, let's say, that the artist, regardless of age, be within three years of graduating from a college or university, not represented by a commercial gallery, and have not had many exhibitions of their work.
But, I digress. Regardless of what and how these artists were nominated, we should celebrate their work and applaud Metropolitan Bank for making such an award possible.