Much ado about wearing nothing at Columbia arts festival First visual art competition is dull instead of daring


It may be because content restrictions made more imaginative artists decline the opportunity to submit. Or it may be something else. Whatever the cause or causes, the First Annual Visual Arts Competition of the Columbia Festival of the Arts (through June 22) has turned out to be tame, ultra-conservative and thoroughly boring.

It is not about issues, it is not about imagination, it is not about creativity, and it is certainly not about anything contemporary. It is about technical ability and safe, old-fashioned, tiresomely familiar subject matter: boats at the water's edge, animals, still life, flowers, here and there a person.

None of this subject matter need be dull. It has been the stuff of good art for centuries. But these works, with few exceptions, aspire to little more than faithful reproduction of the object, without resonance, without mood, without much more than competence.

Here and there are a few mildly bright spots. Robert A. Ralph's construction "Meet Me in the Square" captures in a jumble of storefronts and signs the lively ambience of a commercial square. Dick Jenkins' picture of two hogs, "Reclining Ham," shows a bit of humor. Ellen Burgoyne's "Street of Dreams" is somewhat less realistic than the norm here. Kiran Nirankari's "Rhapsody in White," a porcelain tea set, has a degree of individuality lacking in so much else here.

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