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Post #509 • April 4, 2005, 9:34 AM • 17 Comments

Douglas Heingartner for the New York Times (via Artsjournal): Congratulations All Around.

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.




April 4, 2005, 5:14 PM

The prize givers are a small, narrow ("insular" as one critic put it) self-congratulatory money-driven international clique chasing each other around in circles to pat themselves on the back. The winners are essentially interchangeable; indeed, several have won several of the prizes. It has nothing to do with 95% of what is actually going on, and 95% of the actual art being made in the world today is excluded without being considered in the first place. it certainly has nothing to do with art of lasting value in the sense made explicit by the above quote from Robert Henri, himself a damn good artist and teacher.

It is part of the ongoing process of turning the art business into the movie or rock music business. You have to consult your conscience and make your choice.



April 4, 2005, 5:29 PM

And I should add that the music and film business have at least matured to the point where it has been settled that it is a professional necessity to make broad distinctions of quality and recognise that everything that goes by the name is not necessarily worthy of being called "art"..

In the art business are still in the stage where the "art" label compels most of us to accept schlock as art. As we move into this new hyper-commercial phase distinctions of quality will begin to be more readily recognized and talked about, and the categories will become more visible and acceptable.

At least I sure hope so.



April 4, 2005, 7:18 PM

It's sort of like the Oscars. Even if the judges were completely "pure," which of course is NOT the case and never has been or will be, what real difference does it make? It makes a material difference to the winners, obviously, but that's not what I'm talking about. Nobody should need other people to tell them what they should like or consider "best." I don't even remotely care what the Turner Prize people decide, because that's their affair and has nothing to do with me. I may agree or disagree with them, but so what? It's still up to me to judge MYSELF, always.



April 4, 2005, 7:49 PM

Even though I understand your point, Jack, about why should it matter, the fact is that it matters a great deal to the market and to the artists. And the comparison to the Oscars may give too much credit to the art business

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences fluctuates between 5,800 and 6,000 voting members representing 14 branches of film making. I know some of these people. They are professional and they have strong opinions about what constitutes a good film. That doesn't mean that good films always get made or chosen, but at least there is a large representative professional group making the decisions. Compared to this the art prize system is pathetically chaotic, unevolved and amateurish.

As I indicated, I believe that this is a stage in the continuing trend toward the large-scale commercialization of the art business. While I deplore it as much as you do, at least its maturation should bring some semblence of professionalism.



April 5, 2005, 2:16 AM

What I like about the Academy Awards is that - as far as I understand - they are selected by their colleagues. ONLY makeup artists can vote in the makeup artist category, directors for directors, lighting for lighting, etc. - I wouldn't mind seeing something comparable in the art world in which curators select a curator, artists an artist, galleries a gallery, journalists a journalist.

We could call them the "Farbenkugels".



April 5, 2005, 3:30 AM

Or maybe the "Backslappies."


that guy in the second to last row

April 5, 2005, 4:24 AM

artblog needs to shell out awards of prestige and import. the artblogies



April 5, 2005, 5:29 AM

Okay. Anybody have any money?

Wait, weren't we thinking that prizes might be a bad thing?


that guy in the second to last row

April 5, 2005, 6:01 AM

No cash would be awarded, it would just go to the best art in town. A contest where the regulars could cast a vote from a slate of twenty or so artists each year. Kind of like the survey that floated around this site awhile back.


John Sanchez

April 5, 2005, 6:51 AM

sounds good Guy but I have a little bit of a phobia about these things. Some of you readers that know me or ahem! have been judges where my work was concerned have burned me pretty good. Maybe my works sucks , that's cool, but when it comes to comparing those that were "better" than me-well let me not go there. But yeah your idea sounds pretty fun.


that guy in the second to last row

April 5, 2005, 7:10 AM

No worries John, we all dish it out and take it once in awhile. We are all trying to make better art. Thats the game we play. As long as the voting wasn't too democratic and sufficiently elitist we might be able to do some good for some deserving artists.



April 5, 2005, 11:38 AM

"It is a lot of fascinating economic research in Fine Arts. Why is that that young painters in America they make their best work in their 20's or 30's, but the best work for Latin America painters is in their 60's and 70's."

This statement is from Chris Farrell co-host of radio show "Sound Money" on April 2. He is reliable source of info regarding business trends, money managment etc. I follow the art news and I never came across such studies before. Statistically, it means, that in US, if you crossing into 40's you are dead brain artist and, soon, you will be replace with another wave of younger artists. Some business make their decision on statistical science i.e. insurace industry but Fine Art and economical statistics.... I have hard time to connect them together. I thought that art creation is irrevalent of the artist age.
First problem, what methodology surveyors were using?
Second, what criteria for "the best art" they applied? Is it only amount of dollars at Christie or criteria which Franklin posted on the top? Maybe participation in biennale in Venice or Whitney Museum?
American Galleries are more willing to represent younger artists. I think this is a fact. I heard this many times. Because Galleries are in business of economical survival they make their business decisions on cold and objective statistical data- we need young faces on our lists! This is ridiculous, a quality of art comes rather from, at least some, artistic maturity (which takes time) than making loud noises about penises and vaginas.
If anybody has heard about statistics, mentioned above, I would appreciate some input. It is fascinating topic.



April 5, 2005, 1:59 PM

I guess the moral of the story is that when I turn 40 I should move to Buenos Aires or something. Que rico.



April 5, 2005, 4:32 PM


I think the first step would be to find out what artists he is taking about, and whether he is talking about the art or the reputation. They are not the same thing, and it sounds like he doesn't know that.



April 5, 2005, 7:56 PM

He doesn't talk about specific artists or reputations. He talks about societal myths and perceptions regarding the age of the artist. The popular conviction among the curators, galleries, museums in US is that best work (whatever it means) comes out from younger artist. The positive perception shifts toward older artists in Latin America. According to Chris statistical data confirm that myths. The problem I have with myths/statistics like that it is attempt of classification or simplification of very complex fenomena. The psychological sequence leading to creating of painting, for example, includes incredible numbers of variables. The age might be one of them by from my point of view it is irrevelant. What counts is originality and complexity of artistic thought transfered from his/her head to the canvas. Those complicated processes are up and down, dying and being reborn through the artist's life. In human psychology, and particularly if we talk about creative process, we don't have straight lines and going from point A to point B. The path is zigzaging and frequently unpredictable.



April 5, 2005, 8:26 PM

Muh, i think the problem is that the art world is full of unprofessional people who know little about art. Young or old is beside the point, of course. The art is either worthwhile or not.

We have a culture in the art business right now where lots of people with money are looking for the "next big thing", and their money drives people and things and creates pressure in favor of younger artists.

If you are in the business it is something you have to deal with. If you are an artist it is annoying but you just go ahead and do the best you can anyway



April 5, 2005, 10:19 PM

Fashion in art, like in clothing, is a racket. It's "this is better and more desirable because it's the latest thing, and you must have it." Obviously, it's motivated by the desire to separate people from their money. Trouble is, people go right along. Every time I see some woman wearing those really narrow pointy shoes that look VERY uncomfortable, I feel like saying "Are you a masochist, or just stupid?" I mean, the damn things don't even look good. But hey, they're all over the place. I don't know; maybe I'm too atypical, but maybe the world is really screwed up.



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