Russ Seligman has always been a shutterbug. He graduated from his Fisher-Price camera to a 35 millimeter at 12 and set up his own home darkroom by 17. One morning, while listening to public radio, the 28-year-old photographer heard about the Cleveland Museum of Art's NEO Show, a juried exhibition of works by area artists, and decided to enter. Not long afterward, he learned his work was selected.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened to me," says Seligman, who runs Art From the Eye, a custom framing and art show production business, from his basement.
His entry, a 40-inch-by-2-foot photo collage titled "Sycamore Mandala," is made up of eight identical prints of a tree beneath which the artist has spent many hours. Seligman used a special photo blade and a steady hand to cut the photos into pieces, then assembled the collage and blended the edges with colored markers. "If I screw up once, the whole thing's trashed," he says. "I've been making these for a few years, and it's all about patience."
The NEO Show follows in the tradition of the museum's May Show, which began in 1919 to showcase local art, give artists a chance to be judged alongside their peers and sell their pieces (which was especially important during the Depression years).
While works will not be sold through the NEO Show, contact information for the artists and galleries will be available. Judges will award a $5,000 best-in-show prize and two $2,500 honorable mentions. The museum also will buy one piece and add it to the permanent collection.
Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., was one of three jurors presiding over the NEO Show. He shared the task of sorting through the 1,289 entries with Jeffrey Grove, NEO curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at Atlanta's High Museum of Art, and Jane Farver, director of the List Visual Arts Center at MIT. Together, they carefully reviewed each slide in intense 10- to 12-hour sessions.
"It's something I really enjoy doing," Grachos says, "because it gives you an opportunity to see artists who are not necessarily in the mainstream."
As a juror, Grachos evaluates each entry by asking: "Is the artist utilizing the medium effectively? Are they communicating effectively? Is the image or work standing out somehow?" The jurors selected 80 pieces for the show.
Eva Kwong, an adjunct faculty member at Kent State University for the past 15 years, is also one of the selected NEO artists. "Lament," the ceramics teacher's 10-by-10 wall sculpture, features about 100 faintly glazed, 10-inch teardrops hung in a random pattern. Some of them bear messages such as "I love you" and "I miss you."
"It's about loss and mortality," she says. "Coping with that sense of loss is something that's very personal but yet very universal."
The NEO exhibition is a chance to experience the many creative forms from the studios, basements and garages of Northeast Ohio, including "Red Giant J.T.," a neon installation by Jeffrey Chiplis, and an original music composition titled "A Focused Expanse of Evolving Experience" by Jeffrey Mumford.
"It's wonderful that the museum does this for Northeast Ohio artists," says Seligman, a Cuyahoga Community College student. "As a Cleveland artist, I don't think it can get any better than this."
The NEO Show will be on display at CMA from July 10 through Sept. 4, free of charge. For more information, call (216) 707-6835 or visit www.clevelandart.org/NEO.