For half a century, The University of Tulsa’s Gussman Juried Student Exhibition has celebrated the best in student art — ceramics, painting, photography, printmaking, drawing and digital media. It is the capstone exhibit for each academic year where students have the opportunity to be juried by nationally notable jurors.
Teresa Valero, director of the TU School of Art, Design and Art History did the math, and an average of 300 pieces are submitted to the Gussman exhibit every year. “Around 15,000 works have been submitted over the years, and we think about 7,500 have received awards,” she said.
The idea for a juried student-exhibit originated between two dear friends. Herbert Gussman and Brad Place, the former chair of TU School of Art, served on the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa in the late 1960s. They wanted some way to validate the students’ artwork.
“It started as a simple idea, and it has grown into the most important show in the department. It’s the expectation of your work being juried, not by your professors but by someone in the field,” Valero explained.
Since its inception, Roseline and Herbert Gussman have funded the art show, and the winners have gone on to be internationally known artists, curators, art educators, even a few lawyers and a senator.
For the 50th anniversary, TU alumna Ronda Kasl (BA ’78) returns to the very show she participated in as a student 40 years ago, but this time, she is the juror. Kasl’s successful career in the arts led her to be the first Curator of Latin American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This is not Kasl’s first-time to pioneer a new position — she was also the first student to graduate TU with a degree in art history. “I was a studio major, but I wanted to double major in art history,” Kasl said. “I convinced them to let me undertake an independent course of study. I petitioned the university for a degree in art history.”
Kasl fondly remembers late nights sneaking into Phillips Hall to fire kilns and mix clay. “At night we would climb over the back gate,” she laughed. “University security couldn’t keep us out.” Nowadays, late-night student-artists don’t have to risk twisted ankles since there is 24-hour access to the studios.
Kasl’s first curatorial experience was hanging art in the TU Alexandre Hogue Gallery. She described returning to her alma mater to judge the Gussman exhibit in one word: “surreal.”
Master of Fine Arts student and Gussman award recipient Jini Kim breaks down the status quo with her art. Her latest art series, “My Rat Problem” depicts Kim with a rat clinging to her as she goes about her daily activities. The rat represents anxiety. “I hope to create a sense of empathy toward women,” Kim said. “I felt limited whenever I was looking at these common portrayals of women just looking one kind of way, especially when it came to women of color.”
One of Kim’s paintings from her rat series not only won a Gussman, but it was also sold during the exhibit.
Even though art senior Nick Hill has been wowing his mom with crayon drawings since he was two-years-old, he hoped TU would provide professional support and confirmation for his art talent. “I brought my mom a picture with crayons, and she was able to recognize exactly what it was,” Hill said.
During a prospective student campus tour, Hill discovered TU’s Design II room covered in cardboard and wire sculptures. “I decided whenever I was able to take that class, I wasn’t going to take it for granted,” he said. “I would put forth my best effort.” Less than a year later, Hill’s wire sculpture of a monkey made it into the Gussman exhibit and was selected by TU President Clancy’s wife to be featured in Skelly Mansion.
Her freshman year, Spoo submitted a charcoal drawing of her sister for the Gussman exhibit. “To my surprise, it won a merit award, which was a great experience and introduction into the TU School of Art,” she said.
The future of art may not always be in physical drawing though. Spoo is intrigued by how students in this new digital age interact daily with graphic art. “Art encourages you to engage with the world in a creative and different way,” she added.
Founded in excellence, determination and imagination, the Gussman exhibit created a legacy of inspired and thoughtful young artists.
“Art is great introduction to problem solving and learning to think independently,” Kasl emphasized. “Making art doesn’t come with an instruction manual.”