Jordan Sheridan’s “paranormal” blue cocoon represents the strangeness of balancing motherhood with career. (Photos and video by Leah DeFreitas)

A Columbia art award has all women finalists this year, drawing attention to female artists in a field often dominated by men.

The 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia opened an exhibition for the three 701 CCA Prize finalists Thursday evening. The winner of the biennial competition  will be selected from the three later this month.

Artists 40 years and younger compete for the prize, which comes with a residency in a spacious loft, where they will be paid to live and create art for four to 12 weeks. They then get a solo show of their work in the 701 CCA space — great exposure for any artist.

“They can configure the space to suit their needs for whatever projects they’re working on,” said Harriett Green, a 701 CCA advisor.

This year’s finalists are Kate Osmond of Charleston, Jordan Sheridan of Columbia and Brittany Watkins of Columbia. Their work will be shown at the space, on the second floor of 701 Whaley St., through Jan. 15, 2023.

Watkins and Sheridan work with 3D textiles, and Osmond with paint.

Along with the loft and stipend, the residency provides artists something pivotal to their creative process: time.

“I had never felt so supported in my work as I did through this residency, because they gave (me) time,” said 2020 701 CCA Prize winner Adrian Rhodes. “There’s nothing more valuable than time.”

Watkins said she was excited to see all the finalists are women this year. She said there was a push toward “seeking to get more women artists known,” represented by a recent increase in artist pricing and salaries for women. 

Oxford researchers found in 2021 that work by female artists sells for 42% less than work by male artists. However, a 2022 BBC documentary found secondary market prices for work by female artists are rising 29% faster than the prices for art by men.

Sheridan’s identity as a woman plays a large role in her art.

Her large-scale installation for the show represents her struggle to navigate the competing responsibilities of motherhood and career.

“I’m stressed out because I’m not spending enough time with the kids, and everyone keeps saying, ‘the balance, the balance,’” Sheridan said. “This (work) is about that balance not existing.”

Sheridan’s installation is a walkable labyrinth. It leads to a pulsating, glowing blue cocoon at its center.

“Labyrinths have been used as a self meditation to find balance,” Sheridan said.

She said her career in art made the conflict more difficult.

“There’s always this constant flux between, if you’re a mother and an artist, of them causing the other to kind of suffer,” Sheridan said.

Watkins’ work features recycled upholstery and manipulated furniture to show “the relationship between the psychological experience of the individual and the world around us.” 

She used suspended objects in a tall, blue display that she said some compare to underwater depths. Large chunks of the objects and the walls behind them are all painted in the limited shades of blue, pulling the objects into the colors.

“It could be calming,” Watkins said. “It could be submersion, engulfed into the ocean.”

To Watkins, the “darker levels” represent “the depths of neurosis.” The installation also uses symmetry, a technique she said she hasn’t employed before.

“This is a visual representation of organized chaos,” Watkins said.

A couch with a clean, square cutout of one of its legs sits at the center of the piece.

“The reason why that leg is missing is because no matter what work we do on ourselves, there’s never a perfect,” Watkins said. “Whatever your own personal limitation is, that’s always going to exist for anyone.”

Osmond’s abstract paintings feature bright colors and metallics. While the artist wasn’t in attendance Thursday, observers reacted positively to her work.

“I prefer (Osmond’s work) much more than Ms. Watkin’s work, because I just feel this much more than her material,” exhibition attendee Ross Taylor said.



Watkins’ installation features broken, manipulated and recycled furniture.

Osmond’s paintings address consciousness and non-judgment.

Art observers gathered to see the finalists exhibition.

Watkins installed multiple works of similar theme in the space.