Arts The Turner Prize for the Northwest?
posted by April 17 at 9:09 AMon
That’s what Jeff Jahn over at PORT is calling the new plans for an exhibition program that will overhaul the Oregon Biennial and instead turn it into the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards: an authoritative, curated, $10,000 award-ceremony with an in-depth, small-roster exhibition attached.
The decision by Portland Art Museum director Brian Ferriso, chief curator Bruce Guenther, and Northwest curator Jennifer Gately sounds like it will certainly ramp up the museum’s biennial in scope and excitement. Portland carves out a place of authority for itself with living artists this way; it’s a position Seattle or Tacoma could have taken, but didn’t.
Selections begin not with an open call, but with a nomination process.
The Museum will invite a select group of respected arts professionals, including regional curators, scholars, dealers, writers, artists, and critics, to nominate visual artists based on the quality of their work, innovation, skill, relevance to community or global issues in the arts, continuity of vision, commitment to their practice, and level of development in their career. Nominees may be both emerging and well established artists currently living and working in the Northwest, defined by the Museum as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
“What excites me most about this new approach is its organic, community-oriented nature that engages with the region’s great wealth of arts professionals. In essence, the program’s success is a reflection of them and the result will be something that has the potential to be highly regarded nationally, much like San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s SECA Award,” said Gately.
Working with a special guest curatorial advisor from outside the region, Gately will review the nominees’ materials and select finalists whose studios she will visit. The Museum is pleased to announce the curatorial advisor for this inaugural exhibition will be James Rondeau, Curator and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
By December Gately plans to present her findings to the Museum’s curatorial staff and announce the award recipients. The number of recipients selected will vary depending on the quality and scale of work. The work of these artists will be will be featured in the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards exhibition opening in June 2008. At that time, the recipient of the first Arlene Schnitzer Prize will be announced.
“This approach will provide an opportunity to experience a greater number of works by a given artist than is possible in survey-style biennials, thus allowing for a deeper understanding of the artists’ concerns and creative practices,” said Gately.
According to Jahn’s post, the nominees who are shortlisted and who get studio visits with the curators will be announced, a la Turner Prize. (The museum, Jahn writes, is still deciding whether to publicize the nominating committee.)
I’ve written extensively about what I thought were the procedural contradictions and tediums that sucked the wind out of this year’s Northwest Biennial at the Tacoma Art Museum.
The Seattle Art Museum’s only comparable effort is the annual Betty Bowen Award, which doles out about $11,000 to an artist in an entirely private process. Michael Darling, SAM modern and contemporary curator, is already making the Betty Bowen more appealing by setting aside room in the downtown museum for a solo show for each year’s winner. But what about the selection process there? I hope Darling and other art professionals get the chance to become more active in that, too.