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November 24, 2009

When Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize I started thinking about prizes for artists. There are a variety of them, grants from foundations and governments, awards like the “anonymous was a woman”, Fullbright program and the MacArthur.  There are odd bits like artist’s residencies, visiting artist programs.

I always wonder about the processes for finding winners for all these different giving situations.  Do jurors prefer something that’s expected and recognizable, voting for a specific kind of artwork as opposed to voting for an individual artist?  Ultimately, any award granted is based on the “American Idol” model; an assumption that demonstrated accomplishments in the present predict achievement in the future.

American artists really need money to do their work but the US doesn’t possess an arts-friendly culture.  Do the prizes and awards ultimately make the culture friendlier? Although awards give artists  recognition and some money to buy studio time and materials, art-friendliness has yet to occur. If the prizes can’t/don’t change the culture, do they ghettoize the accomplishments they award and confine them to a narrow community of interest?

Many of my friends have won these prizes; NEA, MacArthur etc.  I’ve been delighted for them, happy that financial pressure was relieved.  Like Obama they earned their prizes for the quality of their work rather than its quantity or appearance.   Unlike the American Idol model, their future efforts were not rewarded.
I’ve just read a press release announcing the winners of something called “Artprize”. It’s founders claim it’s “the biggest art prize in the world” (this is true if you don’t figure in  the more meaningful MacArthur award). Its 10 winners each received $250,000.  The “Artprize” award process is unique and highly democratic.  It involves (among other things) artists applying directly and finding a sponsoring gallery.  The winners are those who got the largest share of votes from the citizens of Grand Rapids,  Michigan This is a process grounded on the flimsiest possible parameters for good, better, best.  Choices aren’t based on the voters’ wide exposure to contemporary art or even reflect enthusiastic community support.

The winning Artprize artists are pleasantly unexceptional.  All do kinds of work many other people do and all their work is nice; big hearted and a best of all, not ‘elitist’. The winning choices are the outcome of a popularity contest; uneven, not bad, fervidly middle-of-the-road.

I have profound respect for anyone who survives as an artist, I value their labor as well as intellect. I applaud work that is ‘approachable’ (I think this means that it has qualities anyone can appreciate without much exposure to anything else). Saint-Gauden’s beautiful work is a good example of ‘approachable’; it doesn’t preclude excellence, intellect or significance.  For the “Artprize”  ‘significant’ isn’t a consideration, the raison d’etre of the prize is predefined and limited by populism. Everyone gets chance at the big money no matter what kind of work they do. The best part of the concept is that it achieves a pleasant comfort level in an otherwise, arts-unfriendly environment.

Niki de St. Phalle made objects that are as approachable as you can get, but the work is not nice. It’s even magificent, in a deliberately populist way.  Her large-scale work has a distinctive, interestingly difficult edge that links sexuality to object-making.   She’s an intellectual whose work rose from a conceptual arena that interested many French artists of her time.
Not only is it approachable, you can walk on it and touch it, even go inside it. The interaction is part of it, integral to its meaning.  Her work is intellect in the disguise of a blow-up doll.  In terms of meaning and significance it’s light years away from the “Artprize” winner who was awarded the $250,000 for a sculpture of a moose made entirely of thousands of carefully welded nails.

Here’s more info on ArtPrize

About ArtPrize

The Basics

At ArtPrize, any artist—from established to emerging—has the chance to show work. Any visitor can vote. The vote will determine who wins the largest art prize in the world. We also took the unusual step to allow people in the city to open a venue and choose the artists to show in their space. There is not one official curator or jury for the competition.

The number of venues is fluid, so the number of competing artists is fluid. The possibilities are wide open.

We can’t predict what will happen, but it should be a lot of fun finding out.

Come and see.

  • Top prize: $250,000
  • Dates: September 23 – October 10
  • Location: Grand Rapids, MI USA
  • Winner is determined by public vote
  • All attendees of the event can vote
  • Top 10 entries will receive a prize
  • Multiple artists can collaborate on an entry
  • Artists may only submit one entry
  • Property owners/renters in downtown Grand Rapids can become a venue
  • Number of artists represented is only limited by number of venues that become available.

More posts on PRIZES

Here is a  12/15 post  from Real Clear Arts

Guess Who’s Winning $50,000?

Last night, United States Artists announced the winners of its annual $50,000 awards at a ceremony in Santa Monica. There were 50 lucky winners, including ten in the visual arts:

JudyPfaff.jpgDiana Al-Hadid, Brooklyn
Terry Allen, Santa Fe
Vija Celmins, New York
Anthony Hernandez, Los Angeles
Joan Jonas, New York
Kim Jones, New York
Martin Mazorra and Michael Houston, Brooklyn
Dave McKenzie, Brooklyn
Judy Pfaff, Kingston, New York (one of her installations is at right)
Dario Robleto, Houston

Looking at the list, it’s hard to draw any conclusions about winning characteristics, except one — New York (including Brooklyn, of course) is still the center of contemporary art.

On the other hand, for this round of awards, the fourth, “USA Fellows” in all disciplines — dance, architecture, design, literature, theater arts, music, media — come from 18 states, according to a press release. They range in age from 28 to 82.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Eric permalink
    December 9, 2009 3:46 am

    Hey, I like the title of yer blogge ^_^

    It reminds me of the provacative question Karl Whitaker used to ask: “Who is your second-favorite artist?”

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