It's Kind of a Big Deal

The Lawndale Art Center's annual Big Show attracts hundreds of submissions from Houston-area artists

By Michael Hardy July 8, 2013

Joan Laughlin, Wild (2013). Oil on panel, 18 x 24

The Big Show
July 12–Aug 10
Mon–Fri 10–5; Sat 12–5
Lawndale Art Center
4912 Main St.

For two days last month, the Lawndale Art Center turned into the Grand Central Station of Houston art. Truck after truck pulled up to Lawndale’s Main Street headquarters, unloading works of art in every size and style—sculptures, paintings, art installations, conceptual art, mixed-media art, and art that resisted every attempt at categorization. Avril Falgout, a high school student from Port Arthur, rented a truck with her father to transport her work, a life-size papier-mâché sculpture of her favorite band. Over the course of 48 hours 366 artists dropped off 922 works of art—submissions to Lawndale’s open-call, juried exhibition The Big Show, now in its 29th year.

“It’s an art marathon,” says Dennis Nance, Lawndale’s director of exhibitions and programming. “For two days all of the work comes in, and then we spend an additional two days going through and looking at each piece. So there’s a lot of art moving and handling that happens.” Any artist living within a hundred-mile radius of Houston can submit up to three works each, and anything that fits through Lawndale’s door can be submitted.

The guest juror of this year’s exhibition was Duncan MacKenzie, a Chicago-based artist and teacher who had two days to comb through the submissions (with help from 10 staff members and volunteers, who moved the art around while he made his decisions). In his exhibition essay, MacKenzie likens the process to “a delicate art ballet—works swirling this way, works swirling that way—barkers calling numbers down, marking cards, pointing things toward their proper places.”

Somehow, MacKenzie winnowed the enormous pool of entries down to 83 pieces by 67 artists. One of those artists is Joan Laughlin, who has appeared in four previous Big Shows. “The art world can be insular and kind of elitist, and the Big Show is something anybody can participate in,” Laughlin says. “I love the fact that in every show there’s always at least one or two people who have just made their first work of art. And their work is right next to someone who’s been making art for 20 years.”

The exhibition, which will run for four weeks, kicks off Friday night with a party featuring a DJ set by Night Drive and drinks by Bombay Sapphire and St. Arnold’s Brewing Company. In past years, opening night has drawn between 1,000–2,000 visitors, making it Lawndale’s best-attended opening of the year. To allow visitors to meet some of the artists, Lawndale will also host a series of brief, five-minute artist talks on the evenings of July 31 and Aug 1.

“The show is kind of a throw-back to an older way to doing things,” Nance says. "It’s a competition and it’s a juried show, but I think it’s also in the spirit of Lawndale being an artist-run organization. It’s the artists themselves who show up and bring the work.” 


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