The Trawick Prize

In 2002, the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, a non-profit organization in that Maryland city created The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, a juried art competition awarding $14,000 in prize monies to contemporary artists in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

The founder, Carol Trawick, is committed to honoring contemporary visual artists with this award. Concerned because in the first few years of the Prize painters were being ignored by the jurors, Ms. Trawick three years into the Prize generously made the same commitment to area painters by creating a separate Bethesda Painting Awards(also funded by Ms. Trawick).

I cannot say enough good things about Ms. Trawick and the fact that in an area dominated by some of the largest and wealthiest corporations in the world, it has been a small business owner who has taken the challenge of ponying up a considerable annual cash prize to recognize an area artist and hopefully place the region on the national fine arts map, is the kind of act that makes one feel good about the generosity of individuals.

Over the years the Trawick Prize has gained momentum and recognition as the top contemporary art prize in the Greater Washington DC region, and some of the area’s premier curators have served as jurors.

In 2004 David Page of Baltimore, MD was the Best in Show winner of $10,000. The next year, Jiha Moon, then of Annandale, Virginia and now residing in Atlanta, Georgia won the top prize. In 2006 James Rieck of Baltimore, Maryland won top honors and last year Jo Smail from Baltimore, won top honors.

Last night I dropped in to Heineman-Myers Contemporary Art in Bethesda (where the show will he held this year) to get a preview and an early first look at the fifteen artists who have been selected as finalists for the 2008 Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards.

The work of these 15 finalists will be on display from September 3 – September 27 and the prize winners will be announced and honored on Wednesday, September 3rd at a special press event held at the gallery. As it is the norm, the Best in Show winner will be awarded $10,000; second place will be honored with $2,000 and third place will be awarded $1,000. A “Young Artist” whose birth date is after April 11, 1978 will also be awarded $1,000.

The entries were juried by Molly Donovan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art; Irene Hofmann, Executive Director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, MD and Leah Stoddard, former Director of Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA.

Depending on who amongst those three jurors is the “leader of the pack” or the guiding hand for the other, will determine who will win the prize. Five will get you ten that the DC area artists in this show were muscled in by Donovan, Baltimore’s by Hoffman and so on. I’ve been on many “art-by-committee” panels and know how they work. As Jose Marti wrote: “I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails.”

This is why it is important for artists to ensure that they are known and their work visible, to their local area curators.

This particular jury committee did a really good job in selecting the 15 finalists. The exhibition is among the best Trawick Prize finalists exhibitions, and it is an crucial mix of art and conceptual ideas, a little play on kitsch themes by a couple of intelligent artists and even a touch of what’s trendy and slicky in the macro art world today.

If Donovan is the leading voice in the jury panel, then I believe that well-known DC artist Maggie Michael will be the winner. I have seen loads of her work and even curated some into past exhibitions. Her entry into this competition is by far the most complex and interesting work of hers that I have seen to date. In the gallery piece by Michael, she has combined all of her previous elements of poured paint, then she peels some of the layers back and nail some of them, with an interesting distressing of the substrate by drilling a big hole in the center and also by adding a graffiti like spraying on the background. I could be off slightly in my guess and Donovan may lead the prize to Maggie’s talented husband, Dan Steinhilber.

If Hoffman is the leader in the panel, then all roads lead to Baltimore’s Tony Shore, whose dark brooding works on black velvet play off a working man’s view of art as an intelligent and creative play on elevating a kitsch substrate to a high art level; the working class’ artist as hero is what Shore is all about.

If Stoddard has the leading voice in the panel, then the prize goes to my good friend and talented artist and blogger from Charlottesville, Virginia Warren Craghead III.

After visiting the show, and after considering in depth the work that I saw, here’s how I would give prizes in this show:
By Joseph Barbaccia
I would give a very good look and consideration to the shiny, elegant and very sexy forms by Joseph Barbaccia, slowly but surely becoming one of the nation’s capital area iconic sculptors. What Barbaccia does to contemporary sculpture is a three dimensional version of what Shore does to painting. They are both using kitsch elements and substrates of the contemporary world to create smart and intelligent works of modern art. Barbaccia’s spectacularly gaudy “Every Man’s Dream” is a glorious achievement of color and sequins and shininess and it is certainly worth of a very close look for the top prize and perhaps setting this artist’s career on an upswing.

Washington’s Molly Springfield is not only one of the nicest persons that you’ll ever meet, but also one of the most amazing talents in the DC area’s art scene, and her technical work is so superbly perfect that we fixate on its tiny imperfections to reassure ourselves of its creation by hand rather than machine. But she goes beyond that and marries her graphite drawings with interesting ideas, concepts and clues about her own sense of growing up and becoming an adult.
Art by Molly Springfield
Molly, at one time or another, has been on almost every finalist’s list for almost every prize in the area for the last few years, and it’s probably due to strike soon.
Painting by Heide Trepanier
Although I am not familiar with Heide Trepanier’s work, there’s something powerful and exciting about the piece illustrated here, which although tends to remind me a little of some earlier Maggie Michael, nonetheless leaps from it in the way that Trepanier has isolated the paint with lines to almost reveal to us Boschian figures and animals and aliens in her work.

My prizewinners would be:

Best in Show: Molly Springfield
Second Place: Joseph Barbaccia
Third Place: Tony Shore

A public reception will be held on Friday, September 12, 2008 from 6-9pm in conjunction with the Bethesda Art Walk. This is easily the best art show in DC this month - don’t miss it!

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