I must admit, when I was asked to review the 66th Annual Spiva Membership Show having never really familiarized myself with the work that is happening in the area, I was a bit hesitant to agree to it. The first image that came to me when I thought of a show displaying the work of mostly Joplin-area artists was a gallery full of Thomas Hart Benton knock-offs and a collection of less-than-inspired ceramic pieces that all generally played by the rules of modern convention and followed the idea that art should just be pretty landscapes and paintings of pretty people. But, now having visited the exhibit, I must say that I feel rather guilty for ever having a sense of such doubt and elitist cynicism of the show.
The show was anything but uninspired. There happened to be a vast expanse of styles, media, and content to be enjoyed and I ended up spending more time with my nose almost touching the works before, admittedly, tripping over my own feet a few times as I backed up to view the creations as a whole. I was truly amazed by the incredible amount of minutia that had been injected into these pieces by artists who obviously poured themselves into every pencil and brush stroke as much as they invested themselves into the content and meanings of their work.
But, as much as I marveled at the individual pieces, I don’t think they would have been nearly as impactful had they not been arranged in the way they were. What made the show so great was the aforementioned variance in styles all rubbing shoulders. It was amazing to be afforded the opportunity to view these pieces that one would normally see all separated and sorted by their differences and arranged into gallery battalions to forever war against each other for the attention of viewers as one giant celebration of art, not a competition of style.
Beautiful ceramics were holding hands with marvelous paintings that were hugging wondrous pencil drawings that were necking with gorgeous installation and sculpture pieces. It was so fun to just spin around and turn corners and take one step this way and lean my head that way to be in a totally different world of art. And that’s what the show is really about, community. It’s not about trying to say that my charcoal piece is better than your acrylic still-life that is better than his non-representation conceptual work. It’s about celebrating the joy of creating and sharing art in this area.
I think more important than anything else in the show is the word “membership”. I don’t think it was ever intended to say that it is an exclusivist show. I think it was intended to encompass the membership that we all share as artists in the worlds of creativity and expression as well as the membership we all claim in being part of this region and the art that comes out of it. And that’s exactly what comes through in this show. The pure expression, emotion, and freedom that art allows us to make for ourselves, but also to share it with others, free of the worry of category and genre and movement. The category, genre, and movement is art, and shows like this are truly the spearhead of such an important collectivist love of all things expressive.
-Submitted by Aaron Balentine