Emory’s artistic community shuffled into Emerson Concert Hall last Saturday for the 2011 Emory Arts Showcase Gala event. Eighteen artists waited in their seats, excited and nervous to share their work with an audience full of students, faculty, friends, family and, most importantly, three judges.
SGA President Beth Brandt, Assistant Director of the Visual Arts Department Mary Catherine Johnson and Director of Wind Studies Scott Stewart played the menacing roles this year, deciding who would win the $150, $75 and $25 prizes.
Seventy-three artists from all over the Emory community contributed their works, and the entries were narrowed down to 10 finalists in the visual arts category and eight musical performances. The musical performances were split into two groups: works written by others and original works.
As the night progressed, a wide variety of musical acts and visual works were presented. Some were true-to-classic works, like third-place winner Allison Rollins’ entry, which judge Stewart described as “reminiscent of the impressionists and Degas.” Other works took a more modern approach, like Todd Deveau’s “Vino,” a simple yet stunning photograph of a wine glass.
“There is beauty in the world around us,” said Deveau on stage.
Finalist Liling Iem, a College freshman and the youngest visual arts finalist, admitted that her entry began as a doodle in class, and advised other young artists to “start with a simple idea and out [will] grow masterpieces.”
The visual arts finalists worked in a multitude of mediums. “Graffiti Lock” — by second-place winner and self-described “photo tourist” Deborah Baumgarten, an associate professor in the School of Medicine — was a photograph of a lock she had taken on vacation, printed on a metallic aluminum canvas. Finalist Hannah Woebkenberg experimented even further, using pantyhose to make her webbed piece, which was one in a series of pantyhose-driven portraitures.
The musicians who performed at the gala were just as impressive. Third-place winner Hao Feng opened the show with his fingers flying effortlessly over the piano keys. Graduate student Kira Walsh displayed a touch of theatricality, performing “Somewhere That’s Green” from the musical Little Shop of Horrors, which won her second place.
After a side-splitting show by Emory’s improv troupe Rathskellar, the judges announced the winners. Todd Deveau’s sense of simplicity triumphed as he won first place in the visual arts category for his photograph “Vino.”
Adam Levinson, a College senior and host of WMRE’s “No Folkin’ Around” radio show, snagged first place in the best musical performance of another artist’s work category for his soulful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61.”
“I felt like I was in a bar listening to some blues,” Brandt said.
Scott Stewart described Levinson’s vocals as “what Dylan would sound like if he hadn’t had other chemistry going on.”
“It felt really invigorating to win this competition,” Levinson said. “I really don’t perform very often, and the reaction to my performance last night was a very unexpected surprise. Winning the competition made me want to get out more and play my music for others.”
College junior Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Hazera won first prize for best original work for his performance of “Taksu” on the guitar. His performance blended a variety of guitar styles, mixing rapid riffs with complex strumming patterns. Each new section was reminiscent of a different style of music, leaving the audience at the edge of their seats anticipating which musical allusion Hazera would make next.
The way in which Hazera played the guitar was just as unique as what he played on it. He made use of multiple guitar techniques, from classical methods like finger picking to more distinctive methods like using his shoulder to bang the base of the guitar, adding his own percussion to the piece as he played.
“A year ago at about the same time I played that same piece for students at Colorado College,” Hazera said. “It was really a wonderful experience to remember how to play that piece and then play it for the students at my new school.”
Saturday’s gala also marked the creation of a new award in the Emory Arts Showcase. The Paladin Society, which originally suggested the idea for the event in 2008, unexpectedly announced the Courageous Artist Award through a note. The award is presented to an artist who “sheds convention, has a sense of daring and has a work of art that is presented with passion.”
In its inaugural year, the award was presented to College senior Ankit Bhargava for his charcoal and graphite surrealist drawing “Brett.” Bhargava dedicated the piece to his friend, who had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The piece, which Bhargava said took inspiration from Salvador Dali and MC Escher, depicted a surrealist skeletal figure with an ominous hand reaching down through the figure’s skull into its brain. In the background was the St. Louis Arch “because that’s where we met and spent so much of our time together.”
“You responded to something traumatic by creating art,” remarked judge Johnson.
There were some lows in the night. It was difficult not to notice that Emerson Hall was not as packed this year as it had been in 2010. Previously, students had piled in, filling almost the entire hall. This year, the auditorium was only about 1/3 full with mainly adults in the audience. The show also ran half an hour longer than scheduled, causing many to question the presence of the judges.
“They tried to make it American Idol style,” College sophomore Jake Krakovsky said. “It felt like they were just making comments because they had to. After a while it just got boring.”
But this night wasn’t about the judges. It was, as Master of Ceremonies and Vice President of Emory University Gary Hauk put it, about “celebrating the creativity that simmers out of sight under the crust of the Emory community.”
— Contact Simran Khosla.