National Gallery hopes to raise international profile with exhibit

Five years ago, when Natalie Urquhart went to an art conference in Guyana, it was hard to find respect.

“No one really knew there was an art scene in Cayman,” said the director of the Cayman Islands National Gallery.

She feels that has significantly changed in the interim years, but she’s hoping a new exhibit, part of a continuing campaign, will elevate what the island has to offer in the eyes of the region.

“Cross Currents” opens Saturday and runs through April 18, and features work by 40 local artists. It’s being billed as the inaugural biennial. Ms. Urquhart sees it as an important step to gaining more international exposure.

“We want to grow it into a global biennial to bring in a lot of traffic,” she said, adding that it will eventually feature both national and international artists. But, she added, it will remain “rooted in exploring what is happening within the local art scene.”

She is expecting to see the spectrum of offerings widen beyond just painting and sculpture.

“We’re looking at the whole wide spectrum of what contemporary art is,” she said. “It’s about opening up ideas of what arts can be.”

That includes film, video, performance and installation art. She foresees some elements of future biennial exhibits taking place beyond the walls of the National Gallery.

The exhibit will also offer some substantial awards to the top artists.

The Bendel Hydes Award, named for Caymanian artist Bendel Hydes in recognition of his 45-year career, will go to the artist judged by a jury to be the most accomplished in terms of technical and conceptual strength and originality. The winner will receive $5,000 and the opportunity to develop a solo exhibition with the National Gallery. The winning entry will also be considered for acquisition for the National Art Collection.

An Emerging Artist Award of $2,000 will serve as a developmental grant toward a residency program or related training opportunity for an artist in the under-30 category.

A series of workshops and lectures will be part of the exhibit’s run, the first of which will be on the opening day from 6-7 p.m.

Exploring Biennial Models in the Caribbean will feature a discussion between Ms. Urquhart, Veerle Poupeye, art historian and former director and chief curator of the Jamaica Biennial, and Erica Moiah James, assistant professor of art and art history at the University of Miami and former director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.

On Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., artists are invited to participate in a portfolio clinic hosted by Ms. Poupeye and Ms. James that will offer portfolio reviews and feedback; tutorials in writing artist bios and statements; and best practices for developing submissions to exhibitions, residencies and grants opportunities.

The clinic is free but space is limited and reservations are required. Artists must submit an electronic portfolio, artist bio and artist statement to [email protected] by Feb. 7.

For more information about workshops, lectures and events, visit www.nationalgallery.org.ky.