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People's Choice Award cracks open Lawndale's Big Show: From sex tape to hipster group portrait

People's Choice Award cracks open Lawndale's Big Show: From sex tape to hipster group portrait

News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Grenader
Emily Grenader, "Crowd Painting (Friends and Family)," 2010, Oil on canvas Photo by Cameron Blaylock
News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Stanley
Installation of "The Big Show." At center is Troy Stanley's "Life-Like Structure VIII," 2009, Wood, steel cable and hardware Photo by Cameron Blaylock
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Larissa Harris jurying submissions. Courtesy of Lawndale Art Center
News_The Big Show_Larissa Harris_judge
Larissa Harris jurying submissions. At left is 2010 judge Paul Middendorf. Courtesy of Lawndale Art Center
News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Arnall
Cody Arnall, "Untitled," 2011, Top hat, basketball, lamp shade, bucket, brush and conduit Photo by Cameron Blaylock
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Tanja Vaughn, "Hurrah!," 2011, Mixed media, acrylic, stain and paint pen Photo by Cameron Blaylock
News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Grenader
News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Stanley
News_The Big Show_Larissa Harris_judge
News_The Big Show_Larissa Harris_judge
News_Steven_Big Show 2011 Arnall
News_Steven_Big Show 2011

Lawndale Art Center's latest exhibition, opening Friday evening, is an illuminating, sweeping show of Houston artists. It's also big.

Indeed, it's The Big Show, a survey that affords any artist living within a 100 mile radius of Houston to display their work on the walls of a celebrated Museum District contemporary art institution.

Each year, an outside curator is invited to Lawndale to judge the piles of artwork submitted by otherwise anonymous artists. Queens Museum of Art curator Larissa Harris spent a recent weekend whittling 972 works submitted by 404 artists to the 125 works by 74 artists that compose the 2011 Big Show.

But this year, a celebrated curator isn't the only art connoisseur getting a say. Introducing the CultureMap People's Choice Award: It's the latest feature of The Big Show, allowing visitors to scan QR codes that adorn each artwork's caption and cast a vote for their favorite artist. In the same manner that Lawndale offers an egalitarian, open call for Houston artists to be judged by an outside curator, the People's Choice Award empowers any Lawndale visitor to contribute to a public jurying process. It's art world democracy at its finest.

"Houston is such a great art town," affirms Harris in the exhibition's catalog. "The landscape of people and institutions seems to constitute a real, living ecology where different positions — the grassroots and smaller-scale non-profits, the educational institutions and residencies, the galleries, and the major museums (some unique in the United States) — each have their place."

 It's the latest feature of The Big Show, allowing visitors to scan QR codes that adorn each artwork's caption and cast a vote for their favorite artist. 

Perhaps what makes The Big Show so refreshing is that the works aren't selected based on an artist's résumé or arranged along nebulous themes. Instead, each artwork asks the viewer to pause and appreciate its singular qualities, be it Emily Grenader's hipster group portrait, Emily Sloan's spanking "sex tape," or the suspended steel cable and wood sculpture of Troy Stanley.

"Making generalizations about the work is not easy," Harris says. "Color figure, humor and the hand-made — in a wide variety of combinations — stood out to me and I hope I've reflected this in the selections." Painting is also prevalent, but that may be attributable to canvases being more transportable than, say, light installation. Lawndale's Dennis Nance tells CultureMap that this year's show features less overtly political "statement" pieces.

Symbolic trends and micro movements aside, we're leaving it up to you to decide which artwork carries the highest merit. The winning artist will be announced during the first week of August.

An opening reception for The Big Show will be held Friday night from 6:30 to 8:30. Voting for the People's Choice Award is open through July 30.