JP artists up for prestigious ICA prize

Rebeca Oliveira

Courtesy photo
A detail from Island #3 from the Drifting Islands series by Jamaica Plain resident Evelyn Rydz on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Three Jamaica Plain artists— Eirik Johnson, Matthew Rich and Evelyn Rydz—are among nine finalists featured in the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition, on display at the ICA through Jan. 30, 2011. Over 70 artists were nominated for the prize, given to an artist living and working in the Boston area every other year.

Each of the nominees was asked to submit samples of their work, said Randi Hopkins, the exhibit curator. Finalists were chosen for their “exceptional artistic promise through innovation, conceptual strength and skillful execution,” according to exhibit materials.

A jury of nationally recognized art professionals—including ICA Director Jill Medvedow—will convene to select the $25,000 prize winner from among the finalists in January.

Being nominated for the Foster is “such a huge honor for me,” Rydz told the Gazette in a phone interview. “I checked the [voicemail] message three times to make sure I heard it correctly.” Originally from Miami, Rydz’s work is currently focused on lost and “rejected” objects she finds on beaches. She paints these objects in their original contexts, or creates new homes for them in imaginary islands, evoking migrants and castaways, as described in the exhibit materials.

“The work I’m doing now relates to coastlines, so the ICA’s location [on the waterfront] ties in really well,” she said.

After moving to Boston from San Francisco four years ago, Johnson said that being nominated “gave me a sense that I’d become part of the arts community here in Boston.”

He is showing three large-scale long-exposure photographs of the Peruvian Amazon with a sound component. A normal picture is exposed for a fraction of a second, but Johnson’s pictures are exposed for several minutes, allowing for extreme detail to be captured that would otherwise be lost.

While the four- to seven-minute images were being exposed, he recorded the ambient sounds of the rainforest. Originally from Seattle, Johnson’s pieces incorporate sound to “foster a heightened perception of what lies beyond the photographic image,” according to exhibit materials.

Ten years ago, Rich worked hanging art in the ICA. Now, he is “figuratively putting up art on walls, as opposed to literally putting art up on the walls,” he said. “No matter what happens, I’m honored to be showing here and showing in this exhibition,” he added.

Rich is showing three large pieces made from latex paint on cut paper and linen tape. While technically paintings, they have an extra dimension, as they are painted in pieces, then assembled into flat semi-abstract geometric patterns.

“[The pieces] are not really anything until someone looks at them,” he said. “It’s really about the people seeing them.”

The Foster prize “makes a big difference career-wise” in recognition, Medvedow said, but the prize money also helps. Maybe then the winner can get a new tool or even have the pressure off monthly expenses, she added.

The expanded competition and exhibit features photography, sculpture, experimental film and installation art to go with its larger pool of finalists. In previous years, there were only four finalists for the prize.

The ICA wants to “encourage, celebrate, reward and represent talent in our Boston artist community,” Medvedow said.

Hopkins said all the finalists chose to display new pieces at this show, comparing the motive to wearing a new dress for a big night.

“I have a couple of favorites that I made this summer with these walls in mind, these big beautiful walls,” Rich said.

The layout of the exhibits invites comparisons, as most artists are sharing a room with others’ works. Medvedow compares finding unexpected common themes and ideas to finding “a thread that runs through” the exhibit.

Originally established in 1999, the Foster prize (formerly the ICA Artist prize) is a biannual “treat of variety” of artists living and working in the Boston area, Hopkins said. The prize was renamed after James and Audrey Foster, who endowed the prize with a $1 million gift.

“They [the Fosters] really expanded significantly what we are able to do with this show,” Hopkins said.

Other nominees for this year’s Foster prize are Robert de Saint Phalle, Fred H. C. Liang, Rebecca Meyers, Amie Siegel and Stephen Tourlentes.

Winners of the prize to date include Ambreen Butt, Laylah Ali, Taylor Davis, Alice Swinden Carter, Douglas R. Weathersby, Kanishka Raja, Kelly Sherman and Andrew Witkin. Works by Ali, Butt and Sherman have since entered the ICA collection.

The Foster Prize exhibit will be on display at the ICA, located at 100 Northern Avenue, through Jan. 17, 2011. Tickets are $15, $13 for seniors and $10 for students, and admission is free from 5 to 9 pm every Thursday.

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