Worcester City Gallery & Museum
West Midlands

Led by the PITT artist-led space and Worcestershire Contemporary Artists in partnership with the main Worcester City Gallery, The Worcester Open 2010 Contemporary Art project is an exhibition organized for artists by artists. The three exhibitions show over 300 artists eclectic and varied art practices from across the region and beyond.

Questioning Open Exhibitions on Saturday 22 May was the first symposium held to discuss pressing issues. This symposium consisted of a panel audience debate with Chris Brown co-coordinator and editor for a-n Magazine, Nathaniel Pitt artist and project manager for the Worcester Open, Nina Coulson from the artist collaboration Yoke & Zoom and Christopher Collier, an artist and writer based in London. The WCA are very determined that the artists and the public understand that they were organising this exhibition as artists themselves, not as an institution: challenging ideas set in stone that an open is “often an annual event, always institutional by nature.” The intent was to allow for the possibility of failure, creating a radical mechanism and way of selecting and curating, destabilising the traditional formula of the ‘open’ exhibition.

Texts commissioned for the exhibition, written by Dave Beech and Chris Brown, were placed on audience chairs to read before it got started. These texts seemed out of place in this setting seeming to counteract the whole project, relentlessly questioning, with a hint of disgust, “Who is an Open for? What is its purpose? And exactly how open is an Open Exhibition?…What is this idea of openness?”

Was it a money making scheme? Or a fundraiser so that other exhibitions could be curated at the PITT throughout the next year? Was it for the artists? Works that were just gathering dust under a bed had a chance to be aired; or for artists who were just starting out or on their way out had a opportunity for their work exhibited in prominent venues like Worcester Museum and Art Gallery? Perhaps. But really, should an artists pay for their work to be exhibited? This £15 fee that is the appropriate amount artists are willing to pay all over the globe. One comment was that surely we have the right to have our work shown in a council funded building. We all pay our council tax.

Surely ‘openness’ is the pinnacle of inclusion? Politically correct; all welcome; totally open. In theory, this is a nice idea, full of equal opportunity and chances, yet in the making and the realization, this openness comes with rules, regulations and somehow brings resentment out of the woodwork. A fee to be paid for your work to be shown, yet you have no choice of how or where it is hung. It could be 2 foot or 10 feet off the ground or even next to the toilets. Artworks hung side by side with barely a couple of inches between, crammed in like cattle in a market, merging into one installation of ‘Art’ with limited credibility. You, as an artist, have paid to have your work hung like this and next that hideous piece of work. You have chosen to exhibit your work here and risk having the meaning and intent stamped null and void because of it’s situation and surroundings. Feel free to complain. But there really is no point, you read the TERMS AND CONDITIONS as you signed up online, paid, submitted as many thumbnail images of your works as you could, knowing only one would be chosen and only chosen because of that photo. No Artist Statements were given. For the WMAG, the selectors were each asked to choose 5 pieces they liked and then their role was over, handed onto the curators who then had to make sense of the works, placing them together in the same room, with no theme, no underlying premise, just aesthetics. It seems like a crazy idea; innovative some may say; others, that they are: “willing for this to fail?”

Everyone in Contemporary Art is now talking about ‘openness’. Is anyone ever fully open at any one time. You always have the power to control what you left out, what you keep hidden or what you choose to manipulate. Nina Coulson, a strong minded female artist said that ‘Just like a forkful of food brought up to your mouth that is taken away, you can smell it but you don’t get the benefit. Too much openness leaves out the sustenance.’ Certainly invited to stir things up a bit, and bring some life into the Worcester Art Gallery that Saturday morning, Coulson suggested that the fee to be paid was just downright wrong. The stereotypical artist would find it hard to pay that 15 quid and may have gone without a meal that day because they so wanted their work to be exhibited. Yet here, in this exhibition, who is the audience, and was it worth missing out on sustenance, just to feel like you are a worthy artist? There are so many Open’s out there, about 18,600,000 results come up when you type it into Google for 2010. Coulson announced that if you had the funds, you could enter a piece of work everyday for the rest of your life, an infinite time, and therefore in theory could feel like a successful artist exhibiting internationally from The Royal Academy to Japan or Brazil. Is this success? Who has chosen your work and just because it is seen, aren’t these people mainly the other artists involved, or the occasional passer-by? With the internet, networking opportunities and ways of producing funds, without a doubt Opens are no longer the only way to exhibit or get your work shown. To curate yourself or submit proposals to non charging exhibition, leaves space and opportunity for you as an artist to keep an element of control over your work and how you intend it to be shown your work is then selected on its own merit, not just its aesthetics and the price you paid. Dave Beech concludes his text and these ideas with “Openness is not the solution, it is the problem.”

Knowing the processes, the way in which this work was selected for the Worcester Open 2010 and how it was exhibited, this exhibition seemed more like an installation, a performance. It is almost as if each individual piece of art lost its value in its setting, and the planning, the collecting, the curating and the arranging took over, becoming the real artwork: paid for and exhibited on both aesthetics and concept in one – its merits as a whole.