Impressions: Carrie Hott @ Interface Gallery

An immersive installation of light shades and globes.

[Full disclosure/Take this with a grain of salt: I’ll be showing at Interface Gallery next, and Hott and I share ties to Ortega y Gassett, an artist’s collective.]

Closing 2/1
Carrie Hott: After Hours
Interface Gallery, Oakland, CA

In After Hour, Carrie Hott employs a restrained set of materials: lamp shades and diffusers, textured gold paint, wobbly black cutouts (perhaps of MDF or wood), and curved cuts of polished metal. Hott combines these in modestly-scaled, floor- and wall-based sculptural assemblages. They are packed densely in the small, darkened space and lit with soft, blue-green lights. A soundtrack of glass pings in increasing frequency has a soothing effect while adding a sense of mystery. It is a pleasing physical environment—the textured gold catches and reflects teal glints as you move around. There is so much to navigate that surprising works and angles appear.

It’s dramatic to see an installation transform Interface Gallery’s compact space. After Hour creates an unfamiliar environment whose poetics unravel over time visually and spatially. In that way it made me recall Ola Vasiljeva’s Jargot at Art in General last year. Some of the shelf-based works read as landscapes, while others as a collection of objects, and when the objects seemed more discrete, Haim Steinbach came to mind. But Hott’s interest is unique—it’s is in electricity, light, and how both have changed human society. The Oakland sunshine outside seemed to be begging to be let in.



Always happy to kick off a new artist-run space by participating in their first show!

Most Likely to Succeed

February 6–March 15, 2015
Most Likely to Succeed
Wave Pool

2940 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati

Opening reception: Friday, February 6, 6–9pm

I’ll be showing 12 diagrammatic Positive Signs drawings. Onwards!

 Artists: Alicia Escott, Kristin Farr, Erin Colleen Johnson, Chase Melendez, Susan O’Malley, Jessica Smith, and Christine Wong Yap

2/6-3/15: Most Likely to Succeed inaugural exhibition @ Wave Pool


Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

Recently, I was invited to serve as a juror for a residency program. I was able to review submissions at my own pace, so I started taking notes for my own reference in future applications. Then I realized I should post my tips here, because it’s a win-win situation: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. I spent ~16 hours just looking at artist’s proposals and work samples (65 submissions at 5 to 15 minutes each), and rating and submitting scores. I am not receiving a stipend.

Yet if jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby, find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying, and start looking for reasons to eliminate applications from consideration. The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!


Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Make it accessible.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption. If you are a project-based or performance artist, give context and explain what’s going on. What is process, what is product?


Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Articulate and organized applications suggest responsible artists who won’t fritter away an award. Jurors are not tasked with finding decent artists with OK work ethics; we want to award the ones who are ready and eager for primetime.

Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “the art can speak for itself.” That makes for texts that are neither competitive or memorable. It seems lazy and can be off-putting in its disregard. Jurors are ethically obligated to take the time to read your words, even the ones written (or copied and pasted) with minimal effort.

Proof-read and edit. Exercise attention to detail in your texts, just as you would in the display of your art.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, list specific outcomes and benefits. How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Why are you interested in this particular program? Link your goals to the program’s unique qualities.

Many other applicants can and will list generalizations (such as about time, day jobs, a change of scenery, their passion from a young age, etc.). Those are off-the-cuff responses and they’re a dime a dozen. Plenty of deserving artists need support; stand out from the crowd. Convince us that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.


If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

Josiah McElheny, Interactions of the Abstract Body. Choreographed dancers activating mirrored triangular and circular artworks. With alumni from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance: Lorea Burge, Mathilde Lepage Bagatta and Sandro Piccirilli. Co-ordinated with Susan Sentler. // Source:

Josiah McElheny, Interactions of the Abstract Body. Choreographed dancers activating mirrored triangular and circular artworks. With alumni from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance: Lorea Burge, Mathilde Lepage Bagatta and Sandro Piccirilli. Co-ordinated with Susan Sentler. // Source:


Josiah McElheny: Interactions of the Abstract Body

Art Competition Odds

My 2014 in Art Competitions

Stats on my art competition applications in 2014.

In 2014, I applied to 21 art competitions.*

I applied to: 8 residencies, 4 fellowships, 3 exhibitions/museum submissions, 3 studio programs, 2 grants/awards, 1 public art commission, and 0 professional development programs.


Four out of 21 application results are still pending.



I received: 1 residency.


I was also informed that I was a finalist or alternate for 1 residency1 fellowship, and 1 award.


Of the 17 confirmed results, my overall success rate was 1 out of 17, or 1 in 17, or 5.8%.

I paid $195 in application fees for 6 applications.


The highest fees were $40–45, assessed by the three opportunities in California that I applied to. I sent submissions to 12 opportunities in NY state, where I paid two organizations a total of $30. Ten applications were free.

(*I aspire to do 24 applications per “goal-year,” which starts in June. I did 15 in the first half of 2014, and only 6 in the second. To meet my goal of 24 by next June, I’d have to do 18 more. But after reviewing my commitments in 2015, I decided to target my efforts, and favor specific qualities over an arbitrary quantity.)


Impressions: ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s @ Guggenheim NYC

Through January 7, 2015
ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s
Guggenheim Museum, NYC


Pulled in by the preview image of a swirling light-based installation, I visited this exhibition of experimental artists who emerged from post-war Europe. I’m surprised I hadn’t learned about these predecessors playing with light and kinetics prior. The show succeeds as a well-organized, beautifully displayed art historical survey with a concise amount of text and context. I especially admired the artists’ futurism and optimism.

The Guggenheim’s website features a smartly designed and scored exhibition site. An exhibition trailer shows additional works. Together, the two form a good substitute if you can’t make it to NYC. I’ve linked to the images there for your reference.

I found it rewarding to approach the works as art historical objects, and consider the works’ technical or mechanical accomplishments, the development of industrial materials, and the period of art history that was still very painting- and sculpture-oriented. For example, at least half of the artworks use two-dimensional, rectangular substrates, even when the artists were not interested in painting per se. These flat-ish works offer experiences that fluctuate between illusion and materiality. There’s a pleasant appropriateness to placing the earlier, more two-dimensional works in the lowest and narrowest part of the rotunda walkway, and the later, larger installation works in the higher and wider end of the ramp.

At first I was surprised that there were so many paintings and painting-like objects, but I enjoyed some real stunners: Walter LeBlanc’s painting-sculpture using twisted poly-vinyl strips (1965) made for high-impact Op-Art, and Lucio Fontana’s large slashed canvas Concetto spaziale, Attese (1959)—soft lighting heightened the matte paint and perfect slashes.

The inclusion of several works by Yves Klein, including a field of blue pigment, was a treat, as these works losing vibrancy and tactility in reproduction. I also wondered why Klein’s prints of women are seen more often; these monochromes possess more potency to me.

The kinetic sculptures of louvered glass by Heinz Mack [see the exhibition trailer at 3:00] dazzle, and I wavered in my critical reactions. Their shapes are content-free, geometric, and ultimately inoffensive, yet they represent an unique expression of the group’s interest in movement and vibration. It was also interesting to see the use of acrylic and think about the contemporaneous experiments by California Light and Space artists like Larry Bell and Robert Irwin.

Perhaps the most stunning display was the theatrical reinterpretation of the original ZERO exhibition held in a warehouse [see the exhibition trailer at 0:18]. Included was an effective Vibration painting/assemblage by Jésus Raphael Soto. As a fan of Fluxus associated artist Daniel Spoerri and his attempts to merge art and life, I was delighted to see that one of the most compelling works in the space—a kinetic, mirrored sculpture with three different scores on scrolls—was Spoerri’s, made with Jean Tinguely [see on the right of the trailer at 0:18]. Yet Auto-Theater was intended to spur action and participation, so while it was compelling to look at, viewing seems like an incomplete engagement, unfortunately. Similarly, Spoerri’s Variations on a Meal, by Noma Copley (1964), was probably remnants of an action that was the locus of the artwork, and not meant to be viewed as an autonomous art object. The wall texts for this work, and Jan Henderikse’s Bottle Wall (1962) alongside it, seemed to call for more context about the merging of art and life.

Many of the artists reclaimed the tools and experiences of warfare for positive acts of artistic creation, using unconventional media and techniques to create optical and sensorial artworks. Mack’s Light Grid in Space (1961-69) [see the exhibition trailer at 2:53], a series of long, twisted strips of chromed brass, is a reflective, proto-Cornelia Parker hanging installation that turns reflections a surreal 90º. Digging deeper, it’s inspired by “chaff”—metal strips dropped by warplanes to interfere with enemy radar. While attempts at transmogrification—of making something beautiful out of something as heinous as war—sometimes feel insubstantial, I believe the ZERO artists’ lived experiences of immense devastation imbue these actions with courage.

Otto Piene’s Light Ballet (1961) motorized-light installation is a transcendent, celestial experience. But it’s also lent gravity by the fact that Piene was inspired by watching nighttime aerial campaigns when he was tasked with anti-aircraft duties as a member of a youth corps.

A section was devoted to artists using fire and smoke for mark-making. Wielding a flamethrower post-war must have been shocking, yet the artists insisted on the positive.

Publications including ZERO magazines and an exuberant poster set in Futura were on view. Graphic design nerds will enjoy them. I could have seen more, but it seems that the Guggenheim exhibition was geared toward sensorial experiences with the works themselves, which is fine too.

The show culminates with a recreation of a late exhibition: a large installation of several light-based kinetic works. There’s something very sweet about a group of artists who’ve developed their interests both discreetly and collaboratively being exhibited in this setting with a unifying score. As Piene said:

teamwork is nonsense if it … rules out individuality or personal sensibility.”

Perhaps this fundamental autonomy is the basis for ZERO artists’ faith in the freedom and transformative power of art-making.