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Have art prizes had their day – Apollo Magazine

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Have art prizes had their day? | Apollo Magazine

24 February 2020

The decision to split the 2019 Turner Prize between the four shortlisted artists has divided critics. Do such subversive gestures divest prizes of their power, or open up new ways of judging contemporary art? 

Harry Thorne

No prize is an honour,’ wrote Thomas Bernhard, ‘the honour is perverse.’ In My Prizes: An Accounting (2010), a collection of the author’s musings on his relationship to, and vast collection of, literary awards, he spits bile at ‘so-called’ cultural prizes and the ‘feeble-witted’ judges who preside over them; at the ‘vanity, self-prettying and hypocrisy’ of it all.

Which is to say, the hypocrisy in which he himself became embroiled: ‘I remained too weak in all the years that prizes came my way, to say No. […] I despised the people who were giving the prizes but I didn’t strictly refuse the prizes themselves. It was all offensive, but I found myself the most offensive of all.’

Cultural awards are contradictory by nature. They can be era-defining, career-defining, canonising (for better or worse – often worse), yet they are broadly acknowledged to be false indicators of accomplishment. Whether or not we agree with the results, can we accept that ‘merit’, ‘quality’ and ‘achievement’ can be evaluated against a designed criteria? Or, more crucially, should we?

Such questions are enduring. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre explained his rejection of the Nobel Prize in Literature with the comment: ‘The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution.’ In recent years, however, these questions have grown louder and more frequent, with creative figures pushing back against the institutions attempting to recognise their work – or, more accurately, against the processes being employed to do so.

In 2019, the Booker Prize twisted its own rules to celebrate two novels, by Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, a controversial decision that saw detractors note how the first black woman to win the prestigious award had been forced to share it. That same year, the four artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize (Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani) announced that they would only accept the award as a collective. ‘We feel strongly motivated to […] make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity,’ read Cammock at the presentation ceremony, ‘in art as in society.’

Cammock clarified: ‘If there’s any kind of concerns that we’re somehow undermining the prize, it’s exactly the opposite.’ But undermined it has been. As with the numerous high-profile artists who have chosen to share their awards of late, the Turner Prize verdict (or the judges’ immediate acceptance of it) is indicative of a power shift. Faith in prestigious cultural institutions is wavering. In and of itself, this is no bad thing: institutions should push, and be pushed, to faithfully reflect the communities that they represent and, as such, their systems of evaluation should repeatedly be called into question. But the suggestion that the accepting of an award amounts to an endorsement of societal inequality sets a worrying precedent.

For the likes of Murillo and Abu Hamdan, the latter of whom was awarded the Edvard Munch Prize days after the Turner Prize announcement, the exchanging of capital proper for cultural capital might make financial sense, given the market value of their work. For others, however, the monetary value of an award (the Turner prize comes with £25,000) might prove far more beneficial than the figurative pats on the back that they might receive were they to publicly denounce said award. But denounce they might, because, were they not to do so, they would be indirectly opposing ‘commonality, multiplicity and solidarity’.

There are additional considerations when thinking about the opportunities awards create. What of the few prizes that recognise early-career artists (New Contemporaries), regional arts organisations (Museum of the Year), mid-career women artists (the Freelands Award) or ambitious video projects (Jerwood/FVU Awards)? But our changing attitude towards art awards also signals a more abstract threat: a crisis of criticism.

To declare that certain bodies of work are exempt from judgement is to deny that culture, as a whole, is built upon judgement. When we interact with art, literature, or music, for example, we assess it in relation to all that we have experienced before. To assert that, out of respect for an art form’s subject or intent, it is excused from subjective critical evaluation is to reject that truth and delegitimise criticism as a practice.

If, as Cammock suggested, art is bound to society, then so too is judgement. In our contemporary age, cursed as it is, we must strive to protect both – however perverse they might seem.

Harry Thorne is a writer, editor and critic based in London.

Alistair Hudson

The Turner Prize is firmly established as the principal prize in the art calendar and is fully engrained in the public psyche. It has regularly introduced the general public to the current state of contemporary art, facilitated by an association perfected over the years between media and institution. The success of the prize has come in part from its capacity to shock: an unmade bed, a potter not a painter, architects not artists, a pickled calf or a bum-hole doorway.

Last year in Margate the shock came not from the art but the announcement itself. Artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani chose to share the prize ‘to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society’. The statement drew a standing ovation and seemed genuinely moving; in a time of division here was some unity. The gesture offered a challenge to the prize, or at least its integrity as a competitive sport.

Cue the ensuing debate. For some, this act of selflessness would change the prize for good, even bring it to an end, now that artists had unionised in this way. This might be the case, but I suspect not. An artist I was chatting with not long after confirmed that if they were nominated, they would not be sharing the prize with anyone.

My own jury service for the Turner Prize was in 2015 and resulted in the Assemble collective winning for their regeneration project with residents of the Granby Four Streets neighbourhood in Liverpool. The idea of a multidisciplinary group working outside the art market, or even something ‘not art at all’ triumphing, was seen then as a big challenge to the system. That other art worlds exist was not easy to digest. ‘You’ve broken art!’ someone said on the night. I reassured them that it would be business as usual next year, and it was.

The Turner’s resilience suggests that such art prizes still have a role to play, as long as we live in an age of spectacle. However, they belong to a time that is passing, one rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ‘exhibitionary’ moment. The emerging shift from mechanistic thinking to ecological thinking – or our habit of thinking about art in isolation from the world rather than as something that is connected to wider cultural or social frameworks – will bring with it a change in emphasis from product to process. We are already seeing the emergence of a more values-driven generation which is in turn driving a more values-based economy. The unionisation of last year’s Turner Prize winners hints at this, in turning the gaze from the prize itself to wider societal issues.

In this context art prizes must evolve so as to support and make visible the process of making art and its effect on the world. Concentrating attention on the singular image or object does not tell the full story of the role that art plays in our culture, reinforcing an idea of creativity complicit with the market rather than enriching a broader social capital. Now is the time to reassert art as a vital process that operates across education, social development, health and the broader economy.

There are some examples of this approach already in play. In recent years, the Artes Mundi prize has worked with the shortlisted artists on long-term commissions and projects in South Wales. The peripatetic Visible Award supports artists, chosen through a quasi-parliamentary public jury process,
to expand and deliver on their socially engaged practices. The point here is to engage with artistic projects that, in a radical and proactive way, are able to rethink our cities or rural communities, question education models and propose alternative models of economic development.

Both these formats exemplify how art prizes can be more open-ended, experimental and creative and less embedded in a singular perception of art as merely complicit in market and spectacle. I would welcome this further dissolution of art into the everyday, and suggest it is a viable approach for thinking about the future of art prizes.

Alistair Hudson is the director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery.

From the March 2020 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

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In the boreal forest, nature inspires art – Prince Albert Daily Herald

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Greg Hardy stands in front of just part of his exhibition titled La Ronge Drawings at the Mann Art Gallery. The exhibition is on until mid-January.

The outside has come inside at the Mann Art Gallery, with simultaneous displays from several artists who draw their inspiration from nature albeit in different ways.

For Ken Van Rees, it was walking through a burnt patch of forest near South End (Reindeer Lake) that caused him to wonder what he could do with charcoal and canvas.

“As I was walking through the forest, I looked down at my pants, they were light-coloured, and there were all these charcoal markings on them,” said Van Rees during a reception held by the gallery on Nov. 26. “I thought, oh, maybe I could do something with this and this started this long journey of creating art from burnt forest.”

Van Rees allows the forest, wind and time to do some of the work for him. He puts a canvas down in a chosen spot, puts a burned log on top and then comes back days, weeks or months later to see what has happened.

He has also set up a game camera and was interested to see the wildlife that stopped and took a sniff or walked on the canvas.

“There were all these animals looking at my artwork. There were deer, there were bears walking across my artwork. There were wolves walking around,” Van Rees said.

Where most people avoid burned areas of nature and look for lush, green landscape, the fiery side of nature has a more visual appeal for him.

“Most of us prefer a green forest. That’s what we like to go camping in or hiking in. For me, because I worked on forest fires when I was a teenager and I had that first experience with forest fires, it somehow resonated with me,” he said.

Ken Van Rees stands beside two painting drawn by nature – literally – after he left a burned piece of wood on a canvas in the wilderness at Fort a la Corne for five months. The two canvases were the result. Photo Susan McNeil

Van Rees’ art can be found at the Mann Art Gallery until January 15 and is an accompaniment to the work of well known artist Greg Hardy.

In contrast to the more muted colours in Van Rees’ work, Hardy’s in some cases has bursts of orange and other bright colours.

“This is a show of drawings from the La Ronge area, where I have a cabin up on an island,” said Hardy.

About four years ago, Hardy was talking to the then director of the Mann gallery and agreed to a showing of his drawings.

With changes in staff at the gallery and the pandemic, it took time for the exhibition to come together, but it is now displayed.

Some of the drawings were done decades ago and some are more recent but the focus on the natural world is shared with Van Rees.

“I have an affinity for the natural world and I paint a lot of things, but I always come back to its landscape that moves me the most as subject matter,” said Hardy.

Hardy’s career has been established for some time and he makes it his full time occupation, sharing his time between La Ronge and his main studio near Saskatoon.

“Realistically, this is a small sampling of the drawings that I have because I draw all the time,” Hardy explained.  “It’s primarily the landscape,” he said of his decision to work in northern Saskatchewan. “We used to go up further north and do a lot of canoe trips and it had always been a dream or a hope to have a wilderness cabin at some point.”

An architect from Prince Albert had the cabin available for sale and so Hardy was able to buy it.

“As soon as I saw it, I was just like this is amazing,” he said. “The subject matter was all around and I knew it was going to be very positive.”

Hardy paints or draws where ever he is, and mainly draws inspiration from the plains before focusing on the forest.

“This was like a 15 year concentration on Lac La Ronge and it still feels like a positive source of inspiration,” he said. “But having said that, I’m shifting gears and going to go back to the plains.”

He looks for good quality light when he paints and also looks for energy.

“The more dramatic the landscape the better. I feel more in tune with what’s going on if there’s a storm or a pending storm,” Hardy explained.

“And I’ve always been taken with the sky, since I was a little kid.”

A third display is up at the gallery for the duration of the exhibition featuring Hardy along with Van Rees.

Title ‘The Secret is in the Paper’, the collection was curated by collections assistant Breanne Bandur and is focused on different approaches to the treatment of paper.

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Princess Diana photo exhibition tours three U.S. cities

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A new exhibition featuring photographs of the late Princess Diana will be on display in three U.S. cities starting in December.

Princess Diana Exhibition: Accredited Access” gives a candid view of Diana through the eyes of Anwar Hussein, the longest-serving British royal photographer, and his two sons Zak and Samir Hussein, also photographers. Anwar Hussein took photos of Diana from when she became a public figure until her death in 1997.

“You get to walk through and see a proper journey of how Diana progressed throughout her life from being just a shy, innocent girl to then moving on to being a fashion icon and a humanitarian,” said Zak Hussein, promoting the exhibition in Santa Monica, California.

Visitors are given a phone and headphones so they can read and hear commentary about the significance of each image.

“You get to hear from myself and my brother the stories behind the pictures,” said Zak. “It’s not your regular exhibition of just looking at pictures on the wall … It’s got that more documentary feel about it.”

Zak hopes to educate people about the ways Princess Diana changed the royals. For example, Diana rarely wore gloves.

“Beforehand, it was quite normal for the royals to wear gloves when touching members of the public and it’s something that Diana didn’t do. She wanted to really feel the person and that emotions come across through touch,” said Zak.

Anwar Hussein is widely credited with conveying a more candid view of the royals. Zak said his father excelled at capturing authentic glimpses of the subject’s personality, and advised him to do the same.

“People like to see more candid, more relaxed images of the royals and it’s something that again you can see in this exhibition,” Zak said.

The exhibition by the Husseins goes on display in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York from Dec. 1.

 

(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Karishma Singh and Cynthia Osterman)

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Aberdeen Art Gallery wins architecture award – Museums Association

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Aberdeen Art Gallery has been named Scotland’s building of the year following its recent £36.4m redevelopment.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) announced that the gallery had won the 2021 Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award on 30 November.

Aberdeen City Council’s flagship cultural venue was designed by Hoskins Architects. The redevelopment, which was completed in late 2019, involved refurbishing and extending the 19th-century building.

The project involved new exhibition and education spaces, upgraded building services and environmental performance, and improved art handling, storage, back of house and study facilities. Aberdeen Art Gallery is an A-listed building.

Chris Coleman-Smith, director at Hoskins Architects, said: “The team has done an exceptional job of subtly and sensitively restoring original features of the 19th-century building and improving fabric performance, alongside confident alteration and the bold addition of new elements that enhance the visitor experience, knitting together a thread of careful conservation and the requirements of a world class, 21st-century gallery.”

The annual Doolan Award is assessed by an expert jury who look at each project’s architectural integrity, usability and context, delivery and execution, and sustainability. All types of building are eligible for the award, which is named in memory of its founder and patron, the architect/developer Andy Doolan, who died in 2004. The architects of the winning building receive a £10,000.

Aberdeen Art Gallery’s redevelopment was completed in 2019© Dapple Photography/Gillian Hayes

RIAS president Christina Gaiger PRIAS said: “Aberdeen Art Gallery is an outstanding building and a highly deserving winner of the 2021 Doolan Award. Hoskins Architects have brought a piece of Scottish heritage into the 21st century with humility, skill and sensitivity.

“In the face of the climate emergency, how we upgrade, respect and adapt our existing building stock is absolutely crucial. In Aberdeen Art Gallery we have an outstanding example of how a public building, thanks to the talent of Hoskins Architects and far-sighted clients Aberdeen City Council, exemplifies the smart re-use of an existing building, as part of a collective regenerative response to climate change.”

The redevelopment of the gallery was supported by Aberdeen City Council, which provided £14.6m, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which contributed £10m. Energy company BP donated £1m to the project.

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