Sunday, 22 September 2013

Americans Do It Better

Jet lagged at 5 o'clock in the morning in Washington DC, I thought to write about yesterday's visit to the major portraiture prize show here in the States, Outwin Boochever. Apologies for the few links, I will insert more when I get back to my laptop.

Some facts: the competition is held every two years at the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Museum. This year, the third edition, there were around three thousand  entries, one hundred pieces were chosen as semifinalists through online selection. The gallery then pays for the shipment and selects about half of the works for the show, awarding three prizes and a few commendations. 
Entry is reserved to American artists and works can be in all media, including sculpture, photography and video ( this year's overall winner was a video).

You can see the selected portraits here or download the App on your phone for more contents.

From these few facts one can immediately see the differences with the BP Portrait Award, which is open to artists from around the world but asks them to ship all the portraits to London at their own cost. Opening to digital submission would increase the entries to unmanageable numbers of course, but the final result is that the entry is in fact restricted to those who can afford it ( I'm told that the cost of shipping a lath painting from US can be as high as 2000$), perhaps a conscious choice made by the Gallery when they decided to open the price to the whole world.

Anne Harris ( read interesting interview with John Seed from the Huffington Post)

Let's talk about the show though: just one world, it is excellent. The display is articulated and dramatically lit, giving each piece enough space to breathe; the visit is soothed by the droning of the music coming from the winning video display.


I like the choice of showing photographs and paintings together, particularly as the selection includes painted works with increasing levels if photorealism, so that the difference between the two arts is blurred. The definition of portraiture is is also one of the core issues of a show like this, and they have certainly taken a wide approach to it, with some pieces bordering the figurative or photos that could be seen as reportage.

A sculpture made of rice by Saeri Kiritani

We can't see the girls face in Vincent Giarrano's work, also seen this year at the BP.

A linocut by Neil Shigley and a charcoal by Ray Di Capua. 

Works on paper were included and they were among the best in the show ( no works on paper are accepted in the BP), particularly the ones by Marta Mayer Erlebacher and Leslie Adams.

I had the privilege of visiting the show with the brilliant Catherine Prescott, here with her insightful and beautiful painting.

She gave me some background on a few works and made the visit more meaningful. The formidable Katie O'Hagan was there as well and told us about her haunting and "creepy" (sorry, this is an inside joke) painting.

I previously thought that a portrait prize was quite a straight forward show. A gallery makes the selection and sticks the works in a row in a white gallery with strong lighting. The heterogeneous nature of the show is a given so no worries about that and may the strongest survive.
The Outwin Boochever has shown me that there is a different way of doing it and the result is compelling.

The quality of the works in the BP and here is certainly comparable but visiting the Outwin Boochever was for me a more rewarding experience and the show gave each artist space and respect.

1 comment:

Sharon Knettell said...

We may do it better but we don't do it well.

If you were to put any of those 'paintings' or photo copies or actual photos next to a painting by Velaquez or Manet you would find them stiff, colorless, uninspired and basically poor paintings.

This is a quote from Robert Hughes- though I do not care much for Freud.

Excerpted from an article on the sadly departed Robert Hughes in 2006 in "The Austrailian".
"Suppose you come up with the name of a (contemporary) figurative painter whose work is as sublimely impressive as, let us say, Velazquez. I think you'd be really hard put to," he says.
"There are a couple of really great figurative painters around: there's Antonio Lopez in Spain and, of course, Lucian Freud in England. But I don't think you could say that either of these guys were the mirror equivalent of a Velazquez or a Rembrandt. There are times when art, the medium, just isn't producing exceptional stuff."

Your work has more color and charm than those dullards. No I did not enter.