Friday, March 11, 2016

Here comes the judge

Who guessed the four selected for the Walters Prize? We got two right but even that was pure luck. We're assuming that Simon Denny was selected but decided not to come all this way just to miss out again (not selecting Michael Parekowhai for his Brisbane show was pretty insulting but to not tick Denny would have bordered on incompetence at this particular time). Looking at the list of four you certainly wouldn’t have bet the house on a Denny win had he been a finalist. 

Over the years the selection criteria for the Prize have changed a few times and this year quite radically. At the outset the Prize was for 'the most outstanding contribution made to contemporary art in New Zealand'. Later that shifted to ‘an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand art produced and exhibited during the past two years’. This year it's ‘exceptional artworks that pushed the boundaries of art making in 2014 and 2015.’ No not you painters, sit down.

The elephant in the room is of course the director of the Auckland Art Gallery Rhana Devenport. Her relationship with one of the finalists is extremely close.
In fact this is the second time a Reihana project curated by Devenport has been a finalist for the Walters Prize. In 2008 Devenport, as director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, was on the panel that selected her Digital Marae for the 2008 Walters Prize. For the 2016 Prize, Devenport has not only curated and promoted a selected project, she has also been involved in the selection of the panel of four that chose it as a finalist and she will also be involved in selecting the judge who will make the final decision. No doubt many, many Chinese walls are being built within the AAG but there will be intense interest in how these obvious conflicts are going to be handled.

Past Walters Prizes have delighted with unexpected wins and left field choices but no mistake, the selection of the judge is a critical decision in the whole process. Anyone who listened to Charles Esche talk before the prize giving evening last time knew that Denny was dog tucker. As we've posted before, one reader claims to have picked most Walters Prize winners just by checking out the judge’s previous form. There will be much searching through the entrails when that announcement is made.