If there was ever a Washington, DC based curated art show that could used the descriptors "poisoned well" and "a no win situation," it was the current Options 2005 WPA/C show at the former Staples store on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown (All images courtesy Ding Ren).
And now that the show is finally up, like any big group show, it offers up a diverse array of results, and if I can reach into the trite bag of descriptors again, Ubercurator Libby Lumpkin has delivered a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Lumpkin has been (unfairly I think) pounded in both the mainstream press and the online art critics and observers, taking blasts from every side and quarter. And the show itself has been similarly diminished in nearly all published accounts so far.
A bit of history: since 1981 the Options show have been focused on attempting to showcase the best emerging artists in the region; that is, artists that are not represented by any commercial fine arts gallery. Many of the past artists selected for earlier Options have gone on to become well-known and some have gone on to exhibit in even more controversial and highly attacked group shows like the Whitney Biennial.
For the 2005 version, savvy DC art collector Philip Barlow was initially selected, and almost just as quickly fired by the WPA/C because of his decision to exclude from his selection process all artists who had participated in the Panda public art project. Barlow felt that artists who had made this decision had erred in their artistic path and he felt that he would use this as a culling factor in the set of emerging artists that he would start with.
Although many of us disagreed with Barlow’s perspective, we all supported his right as a curator to choose whatever means and views he chose as a way to select a show. The WPA/C didn’t and he was fired, and a firestorm of online protesting erupted, and when Dr. Lumpkin was selected to replace Barlow, we all settled down gloomily to await her show.
And thanks to the power of the web, we were able to follow Lumpkin’s progress as she visited studios and universities and homes. Seldom has a curator been under such a magnifying glass for a regional show. And seldom has an "outsider" curator delivered such a... how shall I put this? Expected show and still deliver a couple of discoveries.