Post #509 • April 4, 2005, 9:34 AM • 17 Comments
Over the last few years, museums large and small have started awarding their own prizes, usually named after the institution and sponsored by a corporate donor, to capitalize on the glamour associated with contemporary art. To burnish their appeal, many of the new awards are modeled on the Tate Modern's venerable Turner Prize, which has evolved into a nationally televised event that attracts celebrity presenters like Madonna and habitually polarizes the British press. ...
The prizes seem a winning proposition for everyone involved. The artists generally benefit from the exposure, the museum gains a reputation for supporting new work, and the sponsors, like Hugo Boss, the German fashion company, gain cachet by virtue of association with prestigious art. Indeed, the new art prize circuit has a circular quality, with many of the same artists nominated again and again, and many of the same jurors serving on multiple committees. ...
Participants have begun to worry about the insular nature of the awards circuit, said Dan Cameron, a curator at New Museum of Contemporary Art who is another frequently requested judge. "A lot of these prizes are available only by nomination," he said. "If there's no one out there in the art world who's got an eye out on your work, you don't get nominated."
Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, 1923.
The pernicious influence of prize and medal giving in art is so great that it should be stopped.
You can give prizes justly for long-distance jumps, because you can measure jumps with a foot-rule.
No way has been devised for measuring the value of a work of art. History proves that juries in art have been generally wrong. With few exceptions the greatest artists have been repudiated by the art juries in all countries and at all times. For a single example I will say that very few if any prizes or medals were awarded to the artists who are now in their old age, or after their death, the glory of France.
In fact most of them did not get past the jury of admission.
It's not that the juries do not mean well, or at least think they mean well, but it is simply that art cannot be measured.
The reason for the survival of the award system is purely commercial.
I suggest that you use the money to buy pictures; that you let this action carry with it the satisfaction which you approval of the artist may mean; that you choose the pictures you buy, yourselves, making your own mistakes, learning the lessons which you will learn from your own mistakes; and that you hang up the pictures you buy in your permanent collection to represent your judgment.