Friday, October 08, 2010

Prize fight

One of the results for the artist who wins the Walters Prize tonight is a fair chance of getting a decent sized work into the Auckland Art Gallery’s collection. That makes sense, as until this year anyway, most of the artists in the final were pretty well established in their careers. This time it has fallen on younger artists to crowd the podium and the potential for an under 30 year old to go away with the cash and trip to the US. Still it is hard to imagine the AAG or any other public art gallery in NZ feeling equivocal over introducing any of the four Walters Prize finalists into their collections. 

It wasn’t always so. Exactly 50 years ago Colin McCahon was announced joint winner of the first Hays Prize in Christchurch. Peter Tomory, Director of the Auckland City Art Gallery along with John Simpson and Russell Clark, lecturers at the Ilam Art School, were the judges (a mistake only made once, given the consequent fuss - the following year, like the Walters Prize, Hays roped in an overseas judge who promptly gave the prize to Peter McIntyre and Stewart Maclennan – which caused its own upset in its own way) In 1960, in a massive compromise the judges split the prize three ways - one for each judge? (It certainly doesn’t take a giant leap of the imagination to put Tomory to McCahon, Simpson to Francis Jones’s lame painting of a gold dredge and Clark with Julia Royd’s Englishified Composition). 

The following year, the Christchurch City Council declined the offered donation of all three paintings by Hays, the prize sponsors, to the Robert McDougal Art Gallery. McCahon’s painting, Painting, eventually ended up in the Fletcher Trust Collection in Auckland.

SOME ADDITIONAL HORSE'S MOUTH STUFF: We will be at the Walters Prize dinner tonight and will post the winner's name here on OTN as soon as it is announced. It starts at  7pm so let's say, at a guess, around 9pm-ish.