Visual Arts

Lawndale Art Center’s “The Big Show” Breaks All the Rules

It was definitely shaping up to be something BIG over at Lawndale Art Center, with 355 artists submitting 972 works – all vying for a shot at $3,000 in cash awards. With guest juror George Scheer, co-founder and director of a Greensboro, North Carolina living museum called Elsewhere, reviewing the submissions via computer – instead of in person – he accomplished a heroic task by whittling down the entries for “The Big Show” to 76 works by 62 artists. Anybody who has dated online, however, knows that the image on the screen rarely resembles the person sitting across from you on that first date.

On awards night, Friday, July 10, all the rules went out the window. Instead of declaring award winners – as has been done in previous years – it was announced that everybody was a winner and therefore the $3,000 prize would be distributed 62 ways, giving $48.38 to everyone who made it into the show. Nothing extra was distributed to those artists who had more than one entry in the show. They did name five artists with the title of “special distinction;” two of those were for videos – Justin Zachary’s Don’t Cry and Amy Richards’ re/cognition, a compelling 31-minute video of dogs and their attention spans. Photographer Allyson Huntsman’s After Dinner image was interesting, but it was unclear if she just took the photograph of a man sitting in front of the television, or arranged the whole set prior to taking the shot. CARNIVAL GODS by Charles L. Thomas was definitely strong, evoking the sexy spirituality and symbolism of Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival.

Since rules are apparently made to be broken, I’ve decided to make up my own categories and name the respective winners.

Art that makes you think to yourself, “I could do that.” Winners are Trey Duvall for Pour Some Sugar On Me, a white cereal box and bowl of cereal laced with bullets; Karen Braiser’s Grandma, featuring manure enriched planting soil and glitter; and Herbert Shapiro’s Water, a 13-foot winding row of plastic water jugs, gasoline containers and a rusted water pump. Water was actually the fifth entry to receive the “special distinction” award, but it looked different to the judge, photographed in the outdoors on cracked cement, rather than the sterile white display within Lawndale Art Center.

Art that is beautiful and which continues to offer up something new to discover: Winners are Phaedra Jean Taylor for Telling the Bees, an ethereal and sublime encaustic on wood panel; and Vincent Fink’s Iteration 50: Reflection Pool, with hidden symbolism in the blood-red water and rolling sunset sky surrounding the scarred rhinoceros.

Art that is colorful, fun and makes you happy to view it: Amir Kasem’s Castor and Pollux: Absorption of Loss and Conjuring the Creator, two drawings which would look right at home if Dr. Seuss were still publishing; Graciella Socorro’s resin sealed acrylic on clay Bindu Star, with hundreds of tiny, meticulous circles; a backyard swimming pool invaded by unwelcome guests in Who invited them, by Lindy Chambers; and Matter Over Mind by Linda Simien Kelly. In the latter, there appears to be a man dead in the street with a pig and snake looking on, but the composition is bold and bright in its simplicity.

Biggest and smallest notable entries: Pen Morrison’s Don’t Go, with a cloud affixed to the ceiling, held steady with a rope, chain and anchor; and Mercedes Friar Hooker’s miniature church book, Hallowed Be Thy, illustrating temptation and redemption.

“The Big Show” continues through August 8, at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., 713-528-5858,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney