Pushing boundaries and testing ideas are part of the course at the Juried Student Exhibition at the University of Montana.

"It is fun to go into a space like that where they have embraced the more avant-garde aspects of contemporary art," said this year's juror Lisa Simon. "They're not holding back and they shouldn't be."

This year the Gallery of Visual Arts enlisted Simon and Jason Neal, the owners of the Radius Gallery in downtown Missoula, to judge the show. GVA director and art professor Jack Metcalf said he thought they were a good fit to help "form a relationship between UM and commercial contemporary art galleries," he said, adding that they could be a good resource for the students in the future.

Simon and Neal were impressed by the level of the work and the "level of earnestness and engagement with ideas," Simon said. She thinks it's indicative of the School of Art's ability to attract talented students and "harness that talent without being too restrictive."

Much of the art has a noncommercial slant, where sales aren't a consideration.

One of the most prominent pieces when you walk into the gallery's left wing underlies that sentiment.

Stephanie Dishno's "Sated" won an award from the UM Artists Collective. Dishno sculpted a large-scale figurative ceramic female figure on her knees, with a frozen expression of shock and her tongue extended. Her hand is held aloft pointing toward her mouth, implying vulnerability and perhaps disgust.

Simon said Dishno's approach is "brave, and playing with ideas of how women and sexuality are shown throughout history."

The two didn't have a hard-and-fast criteria, although they did decide that they wouldn't select more than two-thirds of the submissions. In broad strokes, they considered the concepts, execution within their chosen medium, and commitment to fulfilling the idea.

They were given three "Juror's Choice Awards" to distribute. Rae O'Myer's painting, "Untitled; Sunday Afternoon," depicts a figure in a laundromat, shifting between skeletal pencil drawing on canvas and a minimal painted orange-and-black color scheme that Simon said felt complex and contemporary.

Kelly Seitz's "Landing Gear" is a sculpture of a bird constructed of bulbous metal pieces. The final award went to a Jeannette Hammerstein's "Ward D," with a painting with blurred imagery swirling around a figure that "seems to have time flashing by her," Simon said.

Zach Williams' large-scale painting, "Rosebud," won the Dean's Award from the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

The Montana Museum of Art and Culture purchased a piece, "River Road," by Dean Leeper. The ceramic artist, who co-directs the FrontierSpace alternative art gallery downtown, paired two ceramic cups with distinctive blue stripes on the bottom with a blackened trapezoidal sculptural centerpiece.

Another MMAC buy is "Brown Piece" by Nicholas Kakavas, a wall-mounted sculpture of a man's back, arms flexed, with a shiny brown exterior, as though mimicking poured and sculpted chocolate.

In his second piece in the show, "I don't wanna look anymore," he used a classic illustrative line style on a ceramic plate toward commentary on sex and pornography. In the foreground, a man covers his eyes with his hands, shielding himself from a plethora of faceless male nudes.

Other pieces are more ambiguous. Danielle LaGoy's "The Transient Feeling of Detachment," is a purely abstract expressionist painting with a carefully developing palette and paint application. Anne Yoncha's "Attempting Physical Contact with Geologic Time IX" uses fabric as a canvas and references to geology in to an emotional effect.

While it doesn't always receive enough credit, and some of its graduates leave Missoula while some stay and make a mark, Simon said, "the School of Art is part of how we've been able to keep out art scene alive."