Mary McCleary certainly had her work cut out for her. As the curator of Art League Houston's second annual juried exhibition, "Gambol," the renowned artist was tasked with wading through the more than 400 submissions, ultimately whittling them down to 39 pieces from 31 artists.
Then, it got even more difficult -- she had to pick the winners.
"It was very hard," McCleary told the crowd, which stood elbow-to-elbow during the opening night of "Gambol" on Friday. "I had to agonize over the works."
After carefully considering each work on the age-old merits of beauty, truth and goodness, McCleary awarded first place -- and the $1,000 prize -- to Magid Salmi. The Sugar Land artist, who moved to Houston from Paris two years ago, submitted two works from his GMO Quarantine series, which consist of small fruits embedded with computer circuits and cast into a sheet of resin. Suffice it to say, it was unlike anything McCleary had ever seen before.
"It's not what I usually like," admitted McCleary, who was taken with the level of craftsmanship and general intrigue of the pieces.
This uniqueness is something that Salmi always strives for in his work.
"I'm trying to do something kind of different, kind of cool," said Salmi, who took home second prize during last year's "Gambol" with one of his photographs from his "Frankenfood" series, which just wrapped up at Spacetaker. "I'm trying to be as different from what's out there as possible."
You can see more from his new series, which will be on view in a group exhibition at Peel Gallery opening this Friday.
For the remaining awards, second place went to Kelly Alison for "The Falling Man," a "highly professional, highly dynamic" painting, said McCleary, which borrows from imagery of 9-11. Sculptor Emily Sloan took home third place for her pieces, "Farmhouse, Architectural Object I" and "Farmhouse, Architectural Object II."
To recognize more artists, McCleary also convinced Art League to dole out honorable mentions for this year's show. Those went to Ruben Coy, Fernando Ramirez, Kay Sarver and Patrick Turk, whose collages, "These Serpents Squeeze Tighter" and "You're Free to Go Once the Worms Are Do," captivated gallery-goers.
In addition to the finalist exhibition of 39 pieces, the show also features more than 150 artworks -- one for every Art League member who submitted to "Gambol" -- displayed in a tightly packed, salon-style exhibition running throughout the entire Art League building. If that sounds like a lot, just remember what McCleary went through.
"Gambol" runs at Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, through December 30. For more information, call 713-523-9530 or visit www.artleaguehouston.org.