Walk into the this year’s Young Contemporaries exhibit at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and you’ll find plenty of faces looking back at you: a grinning man in front of rows of pocket knives, a pair of Baroque-era young ladies with tattoos and piercings, and a large, green tree with a pick comb sticking out of its branches. Each of these were created by College of Charleston students who made the cut for the annual juried student exhibition this year.

The exhibit’s emphasis on portraiture is just one of the things that makes it different from last year’s show, says Halsey assistant director Karen Ann Myers. Viewers might also notice a shift toward more figurative work compared to last year’s abstracts. But it’s all part of the process, designed to showcase the best artwork coming out of the college, as chosen by a prominent outside artist.

“It’s like all things in the art world, it’s very subjective,” Myers says. “So the exhibit takes on a different look and different feel every year because it takes on the aesthetics or personal tastes of the person we invite to judge the show.”

This year’s guest juror was Minneapolis-based visual artist Scott Stulen, whose work ranges from painting and sculpture to installation and video. Myers says she thought CofC students would be particularly interested in Stulen’s successful social experiments, including the first Internet Cat Video Festival he launched in his own community.

“Through his studio-based works and projects at the Walker Art Center, he has demonstrated a passion creating memorable social experiences between artists and audiences,” she says. “We thought the Charleston community could learn a thing or two from Scott’s successful public projects.”

During his three-day trip to Charleston, Stulen spoke with students and took on the monumental task of sorting and judging the 616 works submitted for the Young Contemporaries show this year.

He said he went into the task aiming to select a range of different mediums and disciplines so everything from traditional figure drawing and portrait painting to sculpture and video would be represented.

“The goal of the show is showing the best of the best, but also have it take on the flavor of what the students are producing at this point in time,” Stulen says. “It’s a little bit of a snapshot, in certain ways, of what’s happening within the college.”

While sorting through the submissions, Stulen says he was looking for quality work that used a unique approach, ones that had personality. “I enjoyed seeing some of these artists young in their career, developing a certain kind of distinct style and approach to their work,” Stulen says. “Students who are creating this really cohesive body of work, they’re starting to focus and go a bit deeper into one particular approach.”

Of the 79 pieces he selected for the show, some of the specific works that stood out to Stulen were the photo-realistic paintings. “I was very impressed with both the skill level, that they can do it, but also that they’re not cold,” Stulen says. “They have a very warm approach to the subject. The video submissions, too, were also very strong. They had a certain level of playfulness that I responded to.”

Most of Stulen’s favorites were ones he kept returning to. Like Tommy Fox’s collage-like painting starring the pick comb tree, “Miss January,” that blurs the line between painting and sculpture.

Seventeen awards and more than $6,000 in prizes will be awarded to students from both exhibits as judged by this year’s awards judge, artist Hirona Matsuda. This year’s exhibit and one new award are dedicated to Dr. Norton Seltzer, a dedicated Halsey volunteer who passed away last fall.

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