Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom’s Ghost of a Dream, ($70,000 worth of discarded lottery tickets, cardboard, foam, wood, mirror, and metal) was narrowly shut out of the ArtPrize top ten finalists. (cc: William Powhida)
Over at WNYC, Carolina Miranda takes issue with my naming of ArtPrize as one of the year’s best exhibitions. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for someone to say something. The contest doesn’t exactly meet the standard criteria us Chelsea folk use to evaluate art; experts (and collectors) do not determine the worth of a work but two rounds of public voting will. You can imagine the quality of these results. Plus, ArtPrize promotion is the hokiest of hokey. Using a formula that exalts the power of democracy by invoking both American-Idol and Internet 2.0 euphoria, the “radically open” contest rhetoric couldn’t be more grating.
All in all, there’s good reason to ask why on earth I’d think this prize was at all significant. I answered a lot of those questions in a post I wrote from Grand Rapids in September, though a more heated conversation is currently taking place over twitter. A summary of what’s been discussed thus far:
cmonstah: I agree that popular events like that can be good in the didactic sense. but is it a best? and what made it important in 2011?
artfagcity: The amount of participation [ArtPrize] saw this year basically melted their servers and they had to extend voting. That was specific to 2011, as I think “groundswell” aided by technology was a major theme.
cmonstah: i think WoA may have generated more thoughtful discussion (materials/concept). artprize is voting contest.
artfagcity: Artprize has a speaker series of 9 guests including Anne Ellegood, senior curator @ the hammer & Reed Kroloff, Cranbrook Director. They also hosted a critics panel (disclaimer I was on this), which packed a large auditorium. ArtPrize didn’t generate conversation in NYC. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happen on mass elsewhere. Also, architects compete for prizes all the time. [Editor's addition: Also, they've created a series of videos which feature experts talking about the art]
starwarsmodern: The issue I have with ArtPrize is didactic. I don’t like the lesson it sends about the worth of artistic labor. I have never thought of art work as ‘professional’ & being an artist is too risky (i.e. harebrained) to be considered entrepreneurial. A wealthy institution, run by salaried staffers should not be asking artists to self-fund decorating downtown Grand Rapids.
hragv: But isn’t that true of any exhibition? Do you guys get paid when you exhibit your work at a museum, for instance?
artfagcity: Also, all the work is for sale and the contact numbers are given on the labels.
pghLotus: Public votes often end up being popularity contests rather than people actually voting for the best.
artfagcity: That’s why they don’t allow top ten winners to enter 2 years running.
starwarsmodern: A wealthy institution, run by salaried staffers should not be asking artists to self-fund decorating downtown Grand Rapids.The problem with ArtPrize (and WoA) is its a purse of gold hung over a hungry throng. The lesson (or in the case of WoA,the entertainment) is that artists are desperate fucks who’ll jump & claw for the a chance at the gold. and “exposure” is NEVER a form of payment – BUT especially when artists are asked to pay all their own expences. Wealth and celebrity are inseparable. There is no more damaging truth to be told about a celebrity than they’re broke.
powhida: I’d say it, the prizes, reinforce a lotto mentality, winner takes all. The status quo.
diggingpit: Winner does not take all. Just being part of such a big open event/dialog can be of value. Seems like this more about the value of experts, degrees and critics. The market of collectors, dealers and curators is a contest of sorts. This lets more people in the door.
manbartlett: I’m in a np show next month where I’m getting paid a small honorarium AND work is for sale. [BRIC arts media.]
Star Wars Modern makes a lot of compelling arguments for artist wages, but that problem is larger than ArtPrize. Should museums and nonprofits pay museum fees? Of course. Does the government mandate fees be paid and stipulate what they will be? In the US, no. The result is that we have a system that does not adequately compensate artists for their work. This isn’t an ArtPrize problem, it’s a structural problem best addressed by policy makers.
I’d add to this the observation that the inclusivity of ArtPrize means that a lot of art will be displayed around the city that no one other than artist should pay for. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the organization to compensate everyone. What we should be doing if we don’t like ArtPrize results is pushing the organization to find ways to better encourage self-education. They’re doing a lot of this on their own — every time I talk to their staff they say need to mine the data they get from the website — but they can also look beyond that. This country is full of professionals whose only desire to produce and talk about art. It’s time to more actively tap those resources.