Monday, June 20, 2011

The Envelope Please... Recent Award Winners


Wim Heldens  -  Distracted  -  2011 BP Portrait Award Winner

On June 14th, London's National Portrait Gallery announced the 2011 winners of the prestigious BP Portrait Award competition.  The top prize went to self-taught artist Wim Heldens of the Netherlands whose painting, Distracted, represents a 25 year-old philosophy student and family friend, Jeroen.  For taking first prize, Heldens will receive £25,000 (approximately $49,500.00 USD), and a commission (worth £4000) to paint a famous figure for the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection.  This is Helden's third time being selected for the annual BP Portrait Award exhibition, and his first time receiving an award.

Louis Smith  -  Holly

Ian Cumberland  -  Just to Feel Normal

Sertan Saltan  -  Mrs. Cerna

Second Place and £8000 (approximately $13000.00 USD) went to Louis Smith for his painting, Holly, which is the artist's re-imagining of the Prometheus myth with a female figure as the protagonist.  Ian Cumberland of Ireland took Third Place and £6000 (approximately $9,700 USD) with his portrait Just to Feel Normal, depicting a friend who has obviously lived a rough life.  The Young Artist Prize and £5000 (approximately $8000 USD) went to Sertan Saltan (b. 1982) of Connecticut for his painting Mrs. Cerna.  Taking the remaining award, the 2011 BP Travel Award was Jo Fraser, whose proposal to record in paint the traditional weavers of the Cuzco region of Peru won her £5000 to fund her project, and a guaranteed display of her efforts in the 2012 exhibition.

Paul Beel's Mirtiotissa in progress.  Beel won the 2010 BP Travel Award, and traveled to Corfu
to paint locals and tourists at a nude beach.

In addition to the five prize winning artworks, and the painting from last year's Travel Award recipient, Paul Beel, the top fifty portraits from among this year's 2,372 entries will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery until September 18.  The exhibition can be viewed at the museum's website, but the images are disappointingly small.  Perhaps this is to encourage the purchase of the accompanying catalog, available from the museum's online store for £8.99 (plus shipping).

The BP Portrait Award competition is open to artists from around the world, aged 18 and over.  The call for entires for the 2012 competition should start mid-December.  To receive notice when this begins, sign up at the NPG website.


Australia has several major art competitions each year, three of which, the Wynne Prize, the Archibold, and the Sir John Sulman Prize, are held concurrently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and will be on view until the 26th of this month.  Judging of the shows has proven to be controversial in the past, and this year has been no exception.

Richard Goodwin - Co-isolated Slave

The Wynne Prize was established in 1897 to honor "the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours, or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists completed during the 12 months preceding the [closing] date."  This year's prize and A$25,000 (approximately $26,500 USD) went to Richard Goodwin for his sculpture Co-isolated Slave, a piece comprised of a Chinese tricycle cart and a motorcycle.  Even fans of Goodwin's previous works are puzzled by this choice;  it is quite a stretch to suppose this sculpture fits the original goals and parameters of this prestigious prize.

Ben Quilty  -  Portrait of Margaret Olley

Paul Ryan  -  Ben Ben - Portrait of Quilty  -  Finalist in the 2011 Doug Moran Portrait Prize

First awarded in 1921, the Archibald Prize is presented to the "best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the Trustees for sending in the pictures."  Several changes have been made to the competition in recent years including the addition of two other prizes;  The People's Choice Award and the Packers Room Award.  Additionally, in 1995 the entry application was modified to specifically state that submissions must be painted from life, and not photographs.  This year's Archibald winner, Ben Quilty, received the A$50,000 (approximately $53,000.00 USD) purse for his painting of Australian artist Margaret Olley.

Packing Room Prize 2011  -  Vincent Fantauzzo  -  Matt Moran

People's Choice Winner  -  Adam Chang  -  John Coetzee

This year's Sulman Prize winner has proven to be the most controversial award of the season, not so much for the artwork chosen, but for the manner in which it was selected.  Richard Bell, a contemporary Australian artist, was the sole judge in the competition.  He had been selected as the "celebrity arbiter of taste" by a committee of 11 trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, at the urging of the gallery's director, Edmund Capon, who expected Bell to stir the pot, and had no qualms about setting the contest up for controversy.  Bell's method for choosing the A$20000 (approximately $21000.00 USD) Sulman Prize winner?  A lottery.

Rather than choosing a painting which fit the criteria of being the best "subject painting, genre painting, or mural project by an Australian artist, in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media," Bell decided to use his position as judge to comment on his feelings that such competitions are just cattle calls and lotteries.  Bell first narrowed the field of 633 entries down by choosing more than 20 paintings depicting animals.  "I like animals," said Bell.  "I was tempted to put in all animals.  I was going to make that the criteria but I had to choose some of my friends."  He then added four paintings which he liked (presumably done by his friends), and four he did not like, bringing the finalists down to 29 artworks.  Once this was established, he wrote each artist's name on a piece of paper, scattered the notes on a table top, and tossed a dime into the air.  The dime came to rest on Peter Smeeth's name, so Smeeth's painting The Artist's Fate took the prize.

Peter Smeeth  -  The Artist's Fate  -  Winner of the 2011 Sulman Prize

When Bell was asked if he even liked the painting, he responded that he liked the note which the artist had written on the back of his canvas (Rejection feels like it has cost an arm and a leg, getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick, being emasculated, having your heart ripped out and being left completely gutted!), and that "the guts were drawn pretty good."  He also added, "I would have liked it to be one of my friends.  I would have much preferred that.  But I gave these other dudes a crack at it."

Richard Bell was an odd choice for the role of judge in the first place.  He was already notorious;  when he won the prestigious National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2003, he claimed his prize wearing a t-shirt reading, "White Girls Can't Hump."  The committee which elected him to the position had to know what they could expect, and Bell, understandably, is unrepentant for his method of finding the winner-  he brought attention to himself, and to the Sulman Prize, and seems content with that.  "Most artists know what these prizes are about, " Bell told The Art Newspaper.  "They've got very little to do with art and much more to do with the institution."

Although Bell's antics show disrespect for the dedicated artists who worked hard to create their entries, and will have made Smeeth's win forever a tarnished one, his controversy has brought attention to the quality of the work in Australia's premier art competitions held at the Art Gallery of NSW.  Are the winners actually the best artworks, and is the public being miseducated in art?

Christopher Allen in The Australian summed it up quite well with his article Old Schooled:

"One of the distressing things about the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman shows is that they attract a very large audience of the general public, people who don't usually attend art exhibitions but who incomprehensibly, in my view, actually pay money to see this one. To such an audience, the fact of being exhibited at the state gallery invests the pictures with authority and plausibility.
Just as the behaviour people see in mainstream films modifies what they consider normal or acceptable in real life, the art they see in officially sanctioned exhibitions alters their sense of what is aesthetically acceptable. That is why it is painful to see unsophisticated viewers and their children inspecting ugly and stupid pictures in the Sulman, earnestly trying to understand why they are considered good. Instead of educating these audiences, such exhibitions contribute to corrupting their judgment."

The finalists and winners of all three competitions can be viewed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales' website.


Vincent Fantauzzo  -  Baz Luhrman Off Screen  -  Winner of the 2011 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize

Australia's most lucrative prize, the The Doug Moran Portrait Prize, recently announced their 2011 winner, Vincent Fantauzzo for his painting Off Screen, a close-up portrait of Australian screenwriter, director, and producer, Baz Luhrman.  This annual competition founded in 1988 by businessman Doug Moran was designed to promote contemporary Australian portraiture, with the requirement that the artist and subject must have been citizens or residents of Australia for at least a year prior to the deadline for submissions.  The runner-up receives A$10000 (approximately $10,500 USD), and the winner receives the world's richest portrait prize of A$150,000 (approximately $159,000 USD).  Before going on a tour of Australia, an exhibition of the finalists will be held until June 26th at the State Library of New South Wales.

Nicholas Harding  -  Rex at Marouba 2011  -  Doug Moran Portrait Prize Runner-Up



Sonia Rumzi said...


Neil said...

In protest against the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman I'm organising a portraiture exhibition that aims to expose the public in New South Wales to a much wider group of artists. Size is limited to 10x14 inche on a linen board supplied as part of the entry. I would like to engage work from around the world to give the idea of where real portraiture is at.

The images you have shown for the Archibald and Moran are in need of a little commentary. The Baz Luhrmann is 6 feet by 6 feet or there abouts and high gloss exopy surface, the Margaret Olley is around four feet by four feet with about an inche (or more) depth of paint. Both exhibitions tend to hang only 40 works, which deliberatly restricts the publics exposure.

Lastly in defense of the public in Sydney the Gallery actually gets more attendance over the year than combined attendances at football matches. The Australian newspaper has under rated the average member of the public a touch, the Arch is just a social event and lost the credibility of a meaningful event a long time ago.

jeff said...

You know when I look at most of the work on from all these competitions I see a lot of bad art. The winner of the BP award stands out because his painting is so honest and well done.
I'm not sure about the other winners.
Smith's painting is well done but I'm not into this kind of thing myself.
I'm glad Wim Heldens won as he was my first pick hands down.

Speaking of down, as in Down Under, man you folks on the other side of the world have some “interesting” painters. Gee, disembowelment as portrait... a new genre.