Imagine standing under intense studio lights in a bikini, posing for a Sports Illustrated photographer—that is how it must feel to be one of the artists who competed for a spot in the 2003 Mississippi Invitational Exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art, opening May 17 and on display through Aug. 31. This is the fourth biennial exhibition since 1997 that surveys artists in Mississippi chosen by a guest curator; 16 artists were chosen by Lilly Wei, a New York-based critic and writer who contributed an essay to the Mary Lovelace O'Neal show at the MMA earlier this year.
MMA Deputy Director for Programs René Paul Barilleaux says the purpose of the Invitational "is to reflect current direction in visual arts throughout the state at a given point in time. " Using curators from cities "on the map" of the art scene, such as New York, Chicago and Santa Fe, allows Mississippi artists to get exposure they might never have received were it not for the Invitational. Someone with a broad perspective chooses the artists, thus putting current local work in a broader national context.
Wei made the initial pick of artists from slides, then spent several days in March traveling all over Mississippi for studio visits where 16 artists and specific works were hand picked to be in the show. According to her essay for the show catalogue, Wei appreciated the chance to explore art produced in the South—"I have long been intrigued by its mythos, a mix of fact and fiction."
Artists in the show range in age, background mediums and motivation. Sculpture, drawing, painting, collage, installations and photographs are all represented in the show, although Wei expressed regret at the lack of video, film, and Internet artists who competed. Lee Renninger in Gulfport, who works with clay and other mediums in installations, writes that "much of my work has evolved from a fascination with repeated units and patterns."
While some institutions might produce this type of show once, the Mississippi Museum of Art produces it biennially, cross-sectioning art in our state like a nurse checking a pulse or a geologist taking a core sample. Each time it is done, there are similarities and slight differences—do it often enough and a pattern appears. With a bit of time and distance we will have a new perspective on art surrounding us now, and perhaps over time the "art world" will gain a new perspective on the world of art in Mississippi.
The 16 artists are: Suzi Altman of Brandon, Collin Asmus of Jackson, Van Bankston of Carollton, Lea Barton of Flora, Norma Sanders Bourdeaux of Meridian and Oxford, Jay Butler of Eupora, Billy Clifton of Tupelo, Sabrina Comola of Ridgeland, Marita Gootee of Starkville, Greg Harkins of Canton, Gloria Norris of Holcomb, Lee Renninger of Gulfport, Kathleen Robbins of Minter City, Wendy Roussin of Starkville, Jeff Schmuki of Gulfport, and Albert F. Sperath of Oxford
— Emily Resmer