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When artists judge other artists

(Page 2 of 2)

In the end, however, everyone concentrated as exclusively as possible on quality. Of the 824 paintings submitted, 89 were accepted. Of the 208 sculptures sent in, 53 passed. And of the 244 watercolors and 164 graphic works placed before their respective juries, 54 watercolors and 42 prints and drawings made the grade.

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It had been, for me at least, a long and very worthwhile day, but one with very few surprises. Considering the generally conservative nature of the academy , of most of the jurors, and of most of those submitting works, it was to be expected that the final selection would reflect a predominantly conservative point of view. I for one could not have cared less. No matter how one labeled them, I had seen a number of excellent works pass before my eyes, and had very much enjoyed half a dozen or so that would have looked impressive in any show anywhere.

But even more important, I had seen a system at work whose immediate goal may have been the selection of works for an exhibition, but whose long-range objective is the preservation and advocacy of the highest possible standards of quality in art. Of course the drawback of such an emphasis on standards, on tradition, is that those insisting upon them are apt to look more to the past than to the present for their technical and formal ideals and for their inspiration. They also are more likely to judge art on how well it is done than on its imaginative possibilities. This had been a problem at the academy for a long time, but anyone who has viewed its exhibitions and annuals over the past six or seven years will have noted a dramatic change toward a much more open and less strictly ''academic'' approach to art.

The National Academy is a remarkable institution. Its potential for helping maintain a sense of stability in an art world increasingly unsure of itself, its goals, even at times its values, is enormous. But to do so it needs greater support, both from the art community at large, and from those within the academy whose perception of art is almost entirely defined by the past. The former must be willing to view the academy in the light of what it is and what it is trying to do rather than on its pre-1975 performance, and the latter must try to understand a bit more clearly that art is always a bit more concerned about what it says than about how it says it.

Now, as to the academy's annual whose selections I had witnessed. I found it not quite as good as last year's, possibly because several of the academy's most talented members didn't enter. As usual, the paintings dominate, both in number and in quality, while the sculpture section - also as usual - trailed very far behind in quality.

For my money, the best work in the show is Herbert Katzman's ''Marsden Hartley Standing Before Portrait of a German Officer,'' with John Heliker's ''Portrait,'' and Cornelius Ruhtenberg's ''Lady in Red'' (which won the $3,000 Benjamin Altman Prize for figure painting) not far behind. I was also taken by Jules Kirschenbaum's ''La Bas,'' Jerry Weiss's ''Mindy in White Blouse,'' Honore Sharrer's ''Untitled,'' and Lynn Shaler's print, ''Ansonia.''

Of the 1,440 works submitted, 238 were accepted. In my opinion, this show, while good, would have been even better had another 75 or so pieces been left out - or if a larger number of America's more adventuresome artists had entered. These annuals need more entries from a greater cross section of American art. I for one would like to see our more open-spirited artists enter them. Having watched the academy's selection process very carefully, I can state unequivocally that their work would be treated sympathetically and with respect.

At the National Academy of Design, 1083 Fifth Avenue, through April 5.