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Roy Slade sees that as his role, but it's his keen eye sharpened by experience that detects artistry to be fostered.
By Lennie Bennett, Times Art Critic
Published January 24, 2008
[Art Festival Beth-El]
Art Festival Beth-El
Temple Beth-El, 400 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Petersburg, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Light lunch and snacks for sale. Free admission. (727) 347-6136.
ST. PETERSBURG - Roy Slade is the judge who, he insists, is not a judge. He's the juror for the 35th Art Festival Beth-El, which opens with a cocktail reception Saturday evening, continues through Monday, and will award more than $7,000 in prize money.
"We have to be careful about the issue of judgment," he says. "Awards are given to encourage people."
Like it or not, though, Slade, 74, is an arbiter. All art show jurors are. In Slade's case, the resume qualifying him for the job is long and distinguished. Career highlights include past director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and past director now director emeritus of the Cranbrook Art Museum near Detroit. He and his wife, Agnes, traveled in their cabin cruiser for about six years after his 1995 retirement from Cranbrook, then settled in Clearwater.
He has, as do all art show jurors, challenges.
One is logistical. Slade will have to assess hundreds of works in many mediums, then announce his judgments (or encouragements) within only a few hours. It's a very rapid turnaround for people who can spend years studying collections or curating a single exhibition. Beth-El, held in Temple Beth-El, is smaller than most weekend art shows. But, with about 170 artists submitting multiple works, it's larger than most special exhibitions in a museum.
"The time isn't an issue for me," he says. "I bring over 50 years of experience, so it's a culmination of everything I've seen."
Bias is another issue jurors deal with in such quick studies. All have specific areas of expertise so, presumably, an arts professional knowledgeable in 19th century paintings or Asian ceramics would be more comfortable in those mediums. Some have spent a lifetime working with fine art, others with fine craft, and their preferences can reflect those experiences, too.
Slade doesn't worry about bias.
"I've been a director at a fine arts museum and at one famous for its design and fine crafts," he says. "I have no preconceptions, and I'm not going to impose my ideas. I work with what I'm given."
Slade, who was born in Wales, began painting as a child. He earned his living first as a educator and then an administrator and in retirement is a respected and popular writer and lecturer. But his great love remains painting, which he does from his Clearwater apartment or, during the summer, in a studio he keeps in Long Island, N.Y.
Does he find that medium more compelling than others?
"I like everything in art," he says. "Being a painter, a working artist, makes me sympathetic to artists. I have suffered both as a director and a painter, been attacked, and criticism hurts."
He knows, too, that time can upend any contemporary opinions about art. He learned the lesson first hand as director of the Corcoran. When he took over in 1972, he found a trove of 19th and early 20th century paintings by American artists stacked in the basement and unused galleries, neglected because they were out of fashion. He restored them to refurbished museum walls and is credited with beginning a critical re-evaluation of that era. (Much of that collection was on view at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in 2007 in the exhibition "Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art.")
Most of his career has been spent in museums, where the displayed art is not for sale. The major point of an art show for the artists is to sell their work.
"The commercial aspects," Slade says, "are not something I'm interested in. I like to support the community."
Back to the task at hand: "Encouragement" and awards:
"The whole creative process is worthy of encouragement," Slade says. "It's a commendable endeavor to use one's hands."
Choose he must.
"My criteria is to select work worthy of encouragement, to find something and think: This is an interesting direction, an expression and exploration of new ideas. I look for honesty and consistency and avoid the derivative.
"It is a selective process."
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.
Festival at a glance
First festival: 1973 with 20 artists.
Artists in 2008: about 170 from around the United States.
Mediums: paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, glass and photography plus limited edition prints from Syd Entel Galleries in Safety Harbor.
Special events: Avenue of Shops on Monday only with decorative objects, gift items and affordable crafts.
Student art display from Pinellas County schools, featuring works from the Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School.
Preview cocktail reception from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $20.
Docents will be on hand informally throughout the event, with a guided tour at 2 p.m. Monday.
[Last modified January 23, 2008, 13:58:14]