Lenny

Who will win $150K tomorrow? Not an emerging artist…

The new Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, at $150,000, is the largest juried prize in the world, and it is supposed to go to an individual emerging visual artist.

Philadelphia banker and real estate mogul Jack Wolgin is a very generous man who wants the prize to be awarded annually, and he wanted it to be “intended for an artist who has not yet received widespread recognition outside of the art world and whose work breaks new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

Words count. When I first announced the establishment of this new art prize in this blog back in 2008, I wrote:

This is great news for visual artists all over the world and even greater good news for the Philadelphia art scene. I will immediately comment that I am hoping that their selection panel will have the cojones to look truly to nominate artists at “a critical professional juncture” and not just xerox out a bunch of names of the usual suspects.

I remember fondly the days when museums like the Whitney and others would take chances on “new” artists, and as a result in the 80s they would give artists their first museum show ever (from memory I think both Fischl and Schnabel got their very first museum show, both while in their 30s, at the Whitney).

The days when museum curators want to be “first” are long gone, and seldom do we see a major museum take a chance with a “first” anymore. The same lack of cojones seems to have infected the major art prizes of the world, and I for one hope that Tyler and its selection jury get some brass into their system and make a statement with this new and generous prize.

Wishful thinking on my part!

The initial award set of jurors picked to award Mr. Wolgin’s money: Ingrid Schaffner, Senior curator at Philadelphia’s Institute for Contemporary Art, Paolo Colombo, adviser to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, and Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society in New York, have all taken the expected lazy interpretation of the focus of the competition and have selected Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz from a larger pool of only 14 nominees.

The nominees were selected by “a group of nine prominent international art world figures from museums and educational organizations, representing the range of media eligible for consideration. The 14 nominees were then invited to submit an application, which was reviewed by the three-person jury.”

Ryan Trecartin, Sanford Biggers, and Michael Rakowitz are all terrific and highly accomplished artists, but in my opinion are all artists who have exhibited far too widely (I think that by the time you get to exhibit in London’s Whitechapel alongside Shahryar Nashat, you’re waaaay past emerging) and are too well known to fit into the category envisioned by Mr. Wolgin.

Remember this prize is supposed to go to “emerging artists.”

“There was a great deal of discussion about the term ‘emerging artist,’ ” said Ingrid Schaffner, referring to the competition’s main criteria. But after the lazy jurors had defined their terms, she admitted that they “surprised everyone by coming to a consensus fairly quickly.”

Very lazily if you ask me. I hope that Temple University’s Tyler School of Arts, who hosts the prize, is as pissed off at paying jurors that don’t do the expected work, and that Temple has learned a very valuable lesson from this initial go around and realizes that seldom does a museum curator or an advisor to any museum (whatever that is?) is really at the leading edge of knowing who is really an “emerging artist.”

In fact, one of the criteria if a museum curator is ever selected for the jury pool again should be: “Have you ever given an artist his/her first museum show?” And maybe even: “How many artists’ studios have you visited in the last five years”?

Back in the 80s museums such as the Whitney in NYC used to give artists their first ever museum show. That was the last time that most museum curators actually were deep in the weeds of who was really an emerging artist.

Let’s hope that this outrageous failure to focus Mr. Wolgin’s initial prize money on the intended pool of emerging artist recipients will put this generous prize back on its intended path. And 2010 jurors, the intended recipients are supposed to be emerging fucking artists!”

The three finalists’ work is on view at at the Temple Gallery through Oct. 31, 2009. The prize will be announced tomorrow; personally I am rooting for Ryan, so that at least the $150K loot stays in Philly.

My hopes for 2010 remain grim. Unless Temple learns this lesson, this $150K will continue to go to the usual suspects because it takes a lot of work to do the job right.

How hard? An independent survey sponsored by The International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and American Artist magazine recently reported that there are 4.4 million active artists in the United States alone (600,000 professional artists, 600,000 college art students, and 3.2 million active recreational artists). That’s a lot of artists, 99.9999999999999999% of whom are emerging artists, and at least 16 of them (more than 14 anyway) I bet are breaking “new ground by crossing traditional boundaries.”

I hope that Mr. Wolgin is as upset as I am; I intend to mail him a hard copy of this post, and then call him, and I hope that he then picks up the phone and tells Temple to get their act right with his prize money in 2010.

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4 Comments »

  1. October 23, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

    tyler student Said,

    Did Trecartin and Shaffner have connections before this prize? Was this a set up by Shaffner?

  2. November 11, 2009 @ 11:00 am

    CDI Collection Agency Said,

    I think its great that they are not going to give away the money to someone who is already famous. What a neat idea to give the prize to an emerging artist.

  3. November 20, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

    ZS Said,

    This is totally unrelated to this post, but I just needed to say that you are super, Lenny!

    And no, that’s not a “set up” by Shaffner. Please!

  4. June 29, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

    lauren@buybikini.org Said,

    I have been reading your blog now for quite some time and really like it. I don’t know if it’s your style or not , but do you think you could do a post on the oil spill in the gulf?

    I love your thoughts and opinions, and would love to see your comments on this tragedy.

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