In an iconic scene from John Hughes’ 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the title character’s best friend, Cameron Frye, stands transfixed before George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande.” The camera toggles between the actor’s hypnotized expression and the Pointillist brush strokes of the neo-impressionist masterpiece.
Had Frye been peering from his pandemic portal via iPad or laptop, Hughes certainly would have shot a different sequence. But the character might have seen the painting in even greater detail.
The 2021 Visual Art & Design Showcase (VADS) at Mizzou is entirely online, a fate common for traditionally in-person events during the pandemic. And although art enthusiasts know there is no substitute for the real thing, online galleries do have their advantages.
“All museums have had to rethink their philosophies during this past year,” says Benton Kidd, curator of ancient art at the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology and VADS committee member. “High-def, micro-details can often illuminate aspects of artwork even better than in-person viewing. Ditto for multiple viewpoints for particular types of art. Probably most importantly, an online exhibition is open to the world, so the exposure is ‘virtually’ unlimited.”
VADS is typically housed in Jesse Hall’s rotunda, providing a centrally located gallery space for student artists and designers to display work in photojournalism, graphic design, architectural drawing, theater set design, painting, sculpting, textile and apparel design, mixed media, and digital storytelling. Now in its sixth year, the showcase has teamed up with MU Libraries to host the event on Omeka, a platform designed for art galleries and museums.
The work is evaluated by a trio of guest jurors from the professional art world who select eight projects for monetary awards. The Grand Prize, selected by Sager Braudis Gallery, includes a $3,600 monetary award and space for their work to be displayed in the gallery at a future date. Ragtag Cinema and Columbia Art League also select projects as community sponsor awards.
“It’s important to read the artist statement and see how it aligns with what I’m viewing,” says Katherine Pill, curator of contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, and VADS guest juror. “When possible, you want to get an an in–the–round feel and multiple viewpoints of the art. But it’s also good to hear directly from the artist, and I know that is not going to change with this online format.”
The VADS dashboard provides space for up to four digital files — still photos or video content — in addition to written and video statements from the artist. The zoom feature allows for detailed viewing of the work, and there is a function for submitting questions and comments for the artist.
Columbia Art League Executive Director Kelsey Hammond admits she might be more thorough and systematic when perusing galleries online versus in person.
“I like to start by getting the lay of the land to see what all the work looks like, then I go through individually and have a moment with each piece,” says Hammond who majored in art history at UCLA and also owns Yellow Dog Bookshop with her husband, Joe Chevalier. “It’s good to know how many works are in the show so you know if you can look at everything.”
The winning VADS projects will be displayed in person April 19–24, 2021, at the Columbia Art League, and the films will be featured April 19–23 at Ragtag Cinema, both in downtown Columbia.
“All museums and galleries worldwide are rethinking their strategies in terms of reaching out to people, and maybe I’m just an art nerd, but if you could tour the Louvre from home, why wouldn’t you do that?” says Hammond, laughing.
If that means she has to learn how to manipulate the technology, she considers that a small price to pay. “We have all experienced anxiety ordering at a ‘cool’ new restaurant where you’re not sure what to do. ‘Do I get a tray? Where do I go?’ But the food is worth it, so you figure it out.
“The art is worth it. You just have to figure out how to access it. And this is a way to access it.”