Stewart Watson's work at the 2014 Sondheim Finalist show.

Stewart Watson's work at the 2014 Sondheim Finalist show. (Charlie Herrick / July 7, 2014)

When will the Baltimore art scene stop griping, speculating, and guessing about who will win the Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize and just start betting on that shit? Last year, we lost a five spot to a dickhead who happened to be sitting beside us, but we are looking for something more formal and widespread. Come on, enterprising bookies, this is an untapped market. After all, the winning artist is going to get 25 grand and the other artists are going to get a couple Gs. The general public should all place bets before the winner is announced on July 12 at the Walters Museum.

Last year, there wasn’t a lot to bet on since the show was kind of a fucking mess. Many of the artists came from Washington, D.C., making the claim that it was “Baltimore’s most prestigious artist award” read like an outtake from Geico’s Indie Across America fiasco. And the galleries at the Walters, which is hosting the show of the finalists while the BMA is undergoing renovations, were not well equipped for the show, whose jurors seemed desperate to be socially relevant.

But this year—holy artist's shit in a can. There is room for some heavy-duty wagering. The wildly eclectic, maximalist, funny, and especially noisy exhibits embody much of what is best about the city’s art scene. And Lauren Frances Adams utilized the Walters’ own collection, in part to critique it.

There are also scene stalwarts like Neil Feather, who has long been involved with the High Zero Festival, and Stewart Watson, who runs Area 405. No one could criticize the choice of either of these artists as finalists. But there is no sense that they were chosen as safe bets. Their work is top notch and their contributions to the community profound. And, they are, in some ways, obvious choices for this year’s jurors, as are Marley Dawson and Shannon Collis, particularly.

Because the thing that really defines this year’s show is a sense of investigation and exploration. Nearly every one of the artists is involved in art as research, or research as art, which is, in many ways, what one would expect from this year’s jurors, because if you’re betting, the only thing to really look at is the jurors. Sarah Oppenheimer, whose installation is a central facet of the BMA’s renovated contemporary wing, is also interested in the process of perception (I’d peg her as a vote for Feather, Watson, or Dawson, though Tata could be a factor because of his architectural interests). Likewise, Claire Gilman has consistently challenged the definition of drawing (putting her, one would guess, in the camp of Collis or Dawson—though her interest in photography might also put her in the Tata camp). And some of the work curated by Olivia Shao, such as “The Evryali Score,” seem to favor musical or noisy process pieces (putting her in the camp of either Feather, Collis, or perhaps even Dawson).

So, figuring the odds based on these entirely unscientific calculations, we would probably put our money on Collis as satisfying some demand of each of the jurors. But, you know, the fact that we say it might sway it (we are putting no money in the pool, so as not to have to worry about that). And Feather or Tata could equally satisfy those demands.

Does that mean these are the best artists in the group? Of course not (though they may be). And these prizes never mean that either. They are about the same thing gambling is: $$$. And prestige.

In reality, however, the entire Baltimore art scene really wins with this year’s finalists and we can’t wait to see the semifinalist show, which, last year, blew the finalists out of the water. We wish them all luck. In order to help your wagering and your enjoyment of the show, we have reviewed each of the seven artists, based not on a bookie’s odds, but aesthetic merit—whatever that means in 2014. And, critic/artist Michael Farley offers a personal essay on the importance of prizes. 



Sondheim Artscape Prize

Introduction
Marley Dawson
Shannon Collis
Stewart Watson
Kyle Bauer
Kyle Tata
Neil Feather
Lauren Francis Adams
Why Prizes Matter