Jurying an art exhibit usually means sifting through the submissions and choosing the best. For out-of-town jurors, that typically requires one visit to a single location. Juana Williams’ stint as juror for the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s 107th Annual Exhibition was a little more involved.
Williams is exhibitions curator at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, in Grand Rapids, Mich. She was recruited in early 2018 by AAP executive director Madeline Gent, who brought Williams to Pittsburgh twice to visit with artists around town and look at work.
“I think she was really trying to make sure that the Pittsburgh artist community had a good opportunity in terms of talking to me and getting to know me, and showing their work to an outside curator,” said Williams.
Williams will be in town again Saturday, when the Annual opens at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Seton Hill University, both in Greensburg.
AAP, founded in 1910, is the oldest continually exhibiting artist-member organization in the U.S., and the Annual is one of the year's biggest showcases for regional artist. Of AAP's more than 530 members in Western Pennsylvania, about 200 submitted works for the Annual, estimated Williams. She selected 50, in media including oil painting, abstract sculpture, fiber art, and ceramics.
Artists to be exhibited at the Westmoreland include such established local names as Atticus Adams, Patti Beachley, Ron Donoughe, Dafna Rehavia, Mia Tarducci, and Louise Silk. Seton Hill, meanwhile, is hosting installation works by artists including Terrence Boyd and Sarika Goulatia.
Gent said she decided to expand the scope of the jurorship after last year’s Annual, when juror Taras Matla stayed for several days, rather than the day or two typical in the past. The interaction between Matla and the artists was enriching, she said: “I found that really beneficial for myself … a well as the artists.”
Williams specializes in contemporary African-American art, and Gent said she was interested in artist-run spaces and other nontraditional studios and galleries. Williams visited local spots including the Brew House Association, BOOM Concepts, Radiant Hall, and Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media.
Williams, speaking recently by phone, said she was impressed by the way artists here were grounded in the city. “They were just so proud of their city,” she said. “Pittsburgh artists have a good idea of creating opportunities for themselves, and that’s something I saw a lot when I was living in Detroit. And so that connection was almost instant to me.”
Williams said the exhibit’s informal theme, “curiosity,” emerged during the jurying process. “I really tried to focus on works that were abstracted or works that made me ask a lot of questions, or made me curious in terms of what the artist’s perspective was or what their intention was when they created the work.”
In particular, she was struck by Pittsburgh artists’ connection to the built environment.
“I feel like every time I come, honestly, I get a new history lesson about Pittsburgh,” she said. “It seems like there’s a lot of information wrapped up in the architecture there. People would tell me, 'This building is one thing, but it used to be something else.'”
That tendency was sometimes expressed in the artwork itself. Williams cites “Sts. Peter and Paul Church, East Liberty,” Cory Bonnet’s somber oil painting of that vacant landmark under gray skies.
“That painting … was sort of reminiscent of that idea of understanding the importance of architecture in the city,” she said, “having a church that actually is in Pittsburgh, and then literally taking pieces from that architecture and including it in his work.”
The AAP’s 107th Annual opens Sat., Nov. 9. Admission to both venues is free.