Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Being picky

Has the latest list of Walters Prize finalists finally removed the awkward claim that each artist has made an ‘outstanding contribution to contemporary art in New Zealand' over the past two years? Most of the current lot (and in fact many of those who have preceded them) are of course simply too young to be attached to the 'contribution' pronouncement. It's probably about time the Auckland Art Gallery dropped it from the promotion and, if it’s still there, the rules of engagement as well. 

One thing that's certain is this jury’s desire to show it's in the curatorial moment. Check out their joint statement pointing out “art’s traction as a means to engage the social, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental realities”. You’re not going to find homages to older artists (think Bill Culbert at the Venice Biennale) in the Walters Prize selections and certainly no interest in traditional media like painting.

But you do have to wonder about the role of the overseas judge. At the start it was pretty clear; the jury sorted out who had made the major contributions based on local knowledge and the judge picked the one that was in his or her opinion the most interesting as an art work in the international context. Over the last two or three prize selections, however, the jury has muscled into what was previously the judge's territory. In a weird way, the overseas judge has ended up judging the panel's taste as much as the artists' abilities.

Suddenly which juror advocated for which artist becomes significantly more interesting.

Images: the Walters Prize Jury, from the left Anna-Marie White, Caterina Riva, Christina Barton and Peter Robinson