Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Prize list

Now that this year’s Walters Prize has been awarded, it seems certain that the Prize is in for some tweaking. The $50,000 prize has been handed out six times but if this year it was possible for the jury to make a selection based on exhibitions they had not seen. You can see a copy of the current rules here that clearly state that at least one member of the jury must have seen a nominated exhibition. Whoops.  Knowing nominated exhibitions determine what artists are required to present at the Auckland Art Gallery that feels fair enough. There’s got to be a way to exit this hall of mirrors.

The success of the Walters has certainly been due to the very open rules in place from the outset. It's been a tribute to the sponsors that the Prize has been allowed to find its own style. Bringing in an international judge has been a huge success (although it would be great if they could spend some more time here) and this year's Prize has apparently attracted the biggest audiences so far. As for the suggestion that it’s an Auckland prize, well, the rest of us might just have to get over it.
Here then our top 10 list of how to improve the current format of the Walters Prize. 
1) Drop naming a single exhibition per artist in the shortlist and return to selecting “works or bodies of work“ that has made an “outstanding contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand in the two-year period”. The jury could then include overseas exhibitions in their consideration without having to see them all.
2) Leave it to the artists to decide how to represent the body of work in discussion with the Auckland Art Gallery. If it is based on one exhibition, fine, if not, fine also.
3) Name the jury members at the start of the process. We don't understand why they are supposed to be anonymous to each other and every one else. More discussion and debate has got to be better than none.
4) Arrange for the jury to meet a few times during the two years. At present jury members work in isolation, better to let them compare notes, share ideas and check they are getting the best coverage of work between them. 
5) Make it a condition of selection that jury members agree to talk to the media.
6) Offer the overseas judge (one of the best and most important features of the Walters Prize) the opportunity to meet with the shortlisted artists before deciding on the winner. Not compulsory but it might be useful for some. 
7) Continue inviting past winners to the Walters Prize event - people love a sense of growing tradition.
8) Give the artists who don't win the Prize some more love. Sure they get a very generous $5,000 but on the night there could be less winner-takes-all. Champagne, flowers, a moment in the spotlight.
9) Dump the dinner for drinks and something more lively that doesn’t involve a string quartet.
10) Make the Walters Prize acquisitive. Good for the artists, good for the Auckland Art Gallery, good for the public.
Image: Kate Newby Yes