Arts Desk

Hillyer Serves Up a Cup of Art-Opening Whine

hillyerThis is the description of the current show at Hillyer Art Space, which opened this past weekend:

Striving to find balance between the daily grind and personal artistic pursuits, our featured adjunct professors labor in the trenches; dropping knowledge for the next generation of college educated artists while pushing the envelope of the local arts scene. Adjunct/Disjunct features the works of Billy Colbert, Nikki Brugnoli Whipkey, Joe Hicks, Mike Mendez, and Juan Rojo. The show calls attention to the struggle of teaching artists who dedicate their time to the academy for little reward. Often working without health or retirement benefits and at risk from budget cuts on the non-tenure track, modern adjunct professors simply work for the teaching experience and studio access.

It's awfully presumptuous to exhibit artists as being victims of their freely chosen career.

Life may be hard for these adjunct professors, but you know what? They're being paid to do something creative that they love, every day. They're gainfully employed in a career that they've likely dreamed of having since they were a child. They have a job in or near the District, where the unemployment rate hovers just below 12 percent. And they have a job in the arts—a hard thing to find—that affords them studio space. Many other artists in this city wait tables or pour drinks to support their careers, and use their apartments as studios, where they might breathe in toxic chemicals from paint as they sleep. Dare I say that life is even harder for plenty of other folks who endure low pay and a lack of health insurance who don't get the pleasure of being paid for their thoughts and creativity, and who don't leave a mark on the world with their work, like many laborers, factory workers, food service employees, and temp office drones.

As for the show itself, it has little to tie these very disparate artists together thematically other than their grudges. It seems as though it was organized only as a vehicle for complaint. Of course, I would never begrudge these professors the opportunity to ask for a raise, or for benefits—that's how you get ahead in life, and we're all entitled to that. But is this gallery really the right forum for this sort of complaint—a complaint that would be more effectively taken up within the university? A month-long, disjointed exhibition is an inappropriate venue for a pay dispute. Perhaps a better use of the space might have been a show featuring the work of an up-and-coming, struggling artist who lacks the opportunities that these adjuncts have been handed—someone who actually needs a boost.

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  • Anna

    That these hard working, talented people should feel lucky to have a job with no benefits, incredibly low wages (along the lines of $20 - 25K a year) with terminal degrees in their fields is total b.s. If the reviewer took her head out of her own ass, she'd see how flawed her logic is. These people did everything they were supposed to do and aren't working on the fringe but rather in some of the richest institution in the country (think about GW or Georgetown's endowment). They shouldn't have to forgo health insurance or a retirement with dignity in order to have a "career" in the arts.

  • Maura Judkis

    Hi Anna. Alas, being an artist is not like being a lawyer, where "doing everything [you] are supposed to do" means a steady career track and certain success: getting hired at a firm, being made partner, a cushy retirement. No. Being an artist is an incredibly risky career track, and that's something that every art student is aware of. I say this not to demean an artist's career choice - I have friends and family members have chosen paths that are similar to the artists in this show, whom I love dearly. But they know about the risks and hardships involved, and they know that there's no singular path to financial success in the arts, as you seem to think. There are many, many artists across this country who "do everything they're supposed to do," and still struggle, and there are many other artists who don't do anything they're supposed to do, and they find success. The point is: If they have a problem with how they're paid at GW or Georgetown, it's well within their rights to complain. Just do it at GW or Georgetown, where their complaints will actually have an impact, instead of throwing together a fragmented show based only on their grudge, when there are so many other shows that the talented people at Hillyer could have put in that space instead.

  • Proust

    The show sucked.

  • John Anderson

    Anna, I feel your frustration, but...
    There is no entitlement to this or any profession.
    We feed from the scraps until there is room for us at the table
    Sometimes we have to make room for a seat.
    Sometimes we have to build our own table and invite others to sit with us.

  • Wrack

    Art: more supply than demand.


  • Aquaphor

    I am amused by Billy’s so called hardship. I’ve attend 2 of his shows in the last couple years. He is very skilled. He has shows in unsold apartments that are sponsored by the real estate companies. The companies do this to help get show case unsold apartments. I naively gave my email address. I know a few DC artists and they don’t have show sponsorship from real estate companies. One of them works nights at IHOP. Furthermore, putting a group of artists together because they are victims of hard times is a weak show concept. I am applying for a show at Hillyer. It is called “I Hate Dad for Giving me the Volvo and not the BMW.”

  • Josh

    Maura Judkis,

    How pompous of you to dismiss this show as a disjointed band of complainers. The artists in the show were asked to participate, and they did. What artist wouldn't? I'm an artist working as a carpenter (waiting tables would be as cushy as an office 9 to 5,) and I see nothing to criticize.

    I'm not in the show, I went to the opening, and had a great time.

    So what if there are other more deserving artists out there? Will there ever be a lack of more deserving artists? What makes another artist more deserving than the artists represented in this show?

    Do you think before you write? Your job should be given to someone more deserving..., someone with a bit of grace and gratitude.


  • R.B. Kitaj

    Josh, you are attacking Maura on a very personally level. You say you arent in the show but I am guessing you are connected to the show by your tone. I think Maura makes great points. Perhaps you should listen.

  • Proust

    Update: Show still sucked.

  • jack

    I like pizza!

  • Curtis

    As far as I'm concerned, art is expression. Whether you agree or disagree with what the artist(s) are trying to express is irrelevant. They may be whining, but that's how they feel, and that, is what the very core of art is all about.

    Maybe they did their job getting such a reaction from the author.

  • Maura Judkis

    I'm certainly glad this has provoked such a discussion.

    To address your point, Curtis: That's certainly true, but it doesn't apply in this case. The content and subject of the art in this show had nothing to do with their feelings about being an adjunct (and I'm sorry if I didn't make this clear). It was simply work that these artists had made over the course of their time as an adjunct, addressing a number of disparate, incongruous topics. The tone of the show comes purely from the description listed above. If you walk into the show without reading it, you would have no idea that it was about being an underpaid adjunct. So what I'm really taking issue with here is not the artists, it's the curating.

  • Michael C. Mendez

    so, i was in the show [my work didn't "suck"], i wasn't there to whine abut anything...i love my job, and feel very fortunate to have it [i've tended bar and worked construction and done many other things to make ends meet...still do from time to time], but to characterize my gig as some kind of walk through the park is to ignore the reality of the situation most adjuncts are in. i worked hard to get where i am [a rung or two from the bottom economically speaking] and i'm asking for pity, but to dismiss my work because as not as bad off as somebody else is STUPID! ...let's not help the iraqis because the afghans are worse about making the conversation about my work and not my job.