Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Blind man’s bluff

How many of the Walters Prize jurors saw how many of the exhibitions they ranked the best of the last two years? 

Ok, here we go: 

• None of the jurors saw Alicia Frankovich’s performance in Berlin 

• None of the jurors saw Kate Newby’s installation in Bremen 

• One (we’re being generous here) of the jurors possibly saw Simon Denny’s exhibition in Sydney 

• Two of the jurors saw Sriwhana Spong’s exhibition in Melbourne (having said that, one of them was already involved) 

Out of 16 possible exhibition experiences we reckon the jurors racked up three. We also understand that at least one juror and possibly two saw none of the exhibitions at all. 

This is probably why although David Cross, Aaron Kreisler, Kate Montgomery and Gwyn Porter were willing to designate specific exhibitions and installations as the benchmarks for their decisions were too embarrassed to respond to our email asking who-saw-what. 

 If you're still with us, here's what we reckon should happen:

 First, get rid of the naming of an exhibition for each artist. Ironically the patrons who put the money up in the first place didn’t envisage specific exhibitions being named. They just wanted the jurors to choose the four artists they thought had done the best work over the preceding two years. Naming one exhibition was an idea introduced by the first jury. Presumably it was intended to give the artists more control in how their work was presented in the Walters Prize exhibition. That might have been a good idea at the time but it's caused endless trouble since. Who’s going to be surprised if the AAG doesn’t allow Kate Newby to pour concrete over its brand new gallery floors as a way to refer to her nominated Bremen installation? 

Second, keep with the Walters Prize exhibition but drop the idea of artists replicating exhibitions. And why not tour it to other parts of the country, it certainly deserves a wider audience and more promotion. That way the artists would be offered the chance to come up with something new that worked within the gallery's capabilities. They’re good at that sort of thing. 

Third, look hard at the make-up of the jury. Including people with more diverse interests might better reflect the range of work done over the last two years. 

Fourth, encourage discussion of the selections and be grateful that the Prize continues to spark passionate debate in the art world at least. Who believes that Michael Stevenson’s survey show at Sydney’s MCA wasn’t one of the best exhibitions of the last two years? Let's hear why the jury left it out. Why are all the artists so young? What happened to all the artists who didn’t go to art school in Auckland? Is painting really dead? Do artists make better exhibitions when they are out of NZ? Talking about all this stuff won’t do any harm. People only gossip about things they are passionate about. 

Fifth, as part of this open discussion insist that the jury makes a statement about their selection that has some ideas rather than blowing finely crafted art-talk slash PR smoke. 

COMMENT 9 May: Peter Madden has suggested that "Selected artists must have lived worked or shown in New Zealand over the Preceding Two Years" should be added to the rules, which seems fair enough. 
Image: The Walters Prize jury are taken to a secluded room in the Auckland Art Gallery to begin their deliberations (re-creation only)