Thank goodness the powers that be made the wise decision to move and rebadge the Centennial Art Prize. The former chook shed style of accommodation could not have been more disrespectful of the art presented or the artists involved. Moving the exhibition out of the drafty and decrepit rusty tin shed located at Centennial oval and relocating it to the classic building of the Vancouver Art Centre has lifted the profile of this event considerably and made its viewing a delight.
However, the 2013 Great Southern Art Award has not been without controversy centered around the decision made by judges Joan May Campbell (a nationally revered local artist ) and Philip Gamblen ( a scientist and cutting edge sculptor) to not make an award within the 3D category.
The entry form brief for this category was limited to: 3D artwork. Plinth/ free standing/ wall hung/ any medium/ any subject. The prize money attached to the award was $1000.
There were several entries in the 3D category representing various abilities and subject. I imagine all of the artists entering the category spent considerable time arriving at a concept, pondering execution and investing a great deal of creative energy in their construction process.
These same artists would have submitted their entry form, paid their $20 entry fee, nominated a price for their artwork (taking into account the 30% commission that the Vancouver Art Centre and therefore the City of Albany would lay claim to should their creation sell), have possibly gone to the expense of delivering their artwork to the VAC from somewhere other than Albany (for arguments sake let’s say Esperance), all with the understanding that their artwork would be exhibited, judged in its own right and against the other 3D artworks and that an award would be made to the artwork deemed most outstanding within the category.
The 3D artists were understandably insulted and outraged in response to the decision made by judges to not make an award in this category. The judges’ comment “This was very thoughtfully discussed and the decision was made with the intent to encourage future development in this category. While we appreciated the diversity and potential of entries, we felt that it wasn’t to the calibre of the other categories in the Great Southern Art Award. We encourage the entry of more challenging work in the future” would justifiably upset anyone being leveled this assessment.
My concern is that not awarding and making comments to the effect that the 3D artworks presented were not of the same “calibre” as other artworks presented in the exhibition, sends a clear message to the community and the individual artist that their contribution does not measure up comparatively and is of a poor standard. It is not an issue of not winning, it is an issue of being deemed unfit for judgement.
I have visited the exhibition three times since its opening and some of the 3D entries in this category were very well executed. The artists demonstrated their ability to interpret the visual material they have chosen as their subject and have executed the crafting of their artwork with a fine level of skill . These were not merely sculptures that copied something from the world with no more meaning then say a picture in a magazine, the artists interpreted their chosen material and showed vision in the fashioning of their creation.
While social commentary may not have been obvious in these works, does all art necessarily need to question every aspect of our existence? Surely sometimes it can celebrate our surrounding environment and the beauty in our world, which is after all such a big draw card for people choosing to live in the Great Southern and certainly provides an limitless source of inspiration to those with a creative bent engaging in artistic pursuits.
I was fascinated by Darrel Radcliffe’s Feeding in the shallows. This pelican carved from a grand piece of Sheoak is beautiful to behold. Only in a subsequent visit did I discover the baby pelican tucked discretely under its broody mothers wing. The grain in the piece of wood chosen is exquisite and by allowing the imperfections in the wood to remain, I was reminded of the aged jetty pylons these majestic birds so often perch upon while undertaking mindful observation of the world passing them by.
Lance Reid’s stainless steel and sheok sculpture The Eagle 014 is very clever. Its reference to the eagles timeless powerful position in the food chain and the depicted habitat, reminded me that urban landscapes are mostly constructed of steel with diminishing amounts of natural materials such as wood and this in turn has a flow on effect to the rest of nature. I love that the eagle looks down, as if from a vast height, challenging its steel leaved habitat with the promise to remain in flight. It made me consider the enduring spirit of the eagle soaring high above us.
Jason Wooldridge’s Humpback captured the movement of these wonderful grandiose marine mammals. More importantly though, the fact that you can see through this sculpture delivers a message about ecological conservation. Watching these animals is not the only reason for their safe keeping. While their beauty is to be enjoyed there is more at stake. We need to see past the form of the whale itself and better understand its importance in the ocean. I am glad I had the opportunity to see Wooldridge’s humpback before it was withdrawn by the artist in response to the judge’s decision.
When interviewed by the Albany advertiser Joan May Campbell stated “if you offer a prize and don’t feel that (any piece) deserves it then what are you encouraging. ” I would suggest that not only are you discouraging those who have entered the 2013 Award, but you are also discouraging those who may be contemplating entering in the future. I fail to see how not making an award ” encourages a broader approach to the 3D section in the future.” Furthermore, I am concerned this controversial decision may cause developing and emerging artists to question entering future GS Art Awards.
Campbell’s comments in Thursday’s Advertiser that “In the sculpture category, yes it was Phil’s decision (to not give an award) and we were transparent about that,” simply diverts responsibility. Campbell was also a judge and could have expressed the opinion that an award should be made, should she have believed that the case. Equally, where is Gamblen’s response to the criticisms being leveled and why does the City of Albany consider these judges neglecting to award a 3D prize so acceptable?
Could it be that this decision was in fact a case of cultural snobbery. Reading Gamblen’s biography, my mind meandered and remembered back to when I was studying at WAAPA and later working as a dancer/ choreographer. Certainly this type of snobbery existed between those creating work that would sell full houses and was of great appeal to the public and work that was more challenging and won the approval of the 20 people in the arts (as my father refers to them). There was a definite celebration of the latter by the arts fraternity and snide criticism of the former in the realm of dance, admittedly I was as guilty of this as any of my peers, so surely it is possible that the same can be said of the visual art world also.
While it is true that the art entered in this award and under the previous Centennial art prize has been of an ever increasing high standard, it is not an award with a specific project brief, it is not an award calling for cutting edge art that pushes boundaries and challenges the status quo; though many of the artworks in this exhibit do achieve this, nor is there a selection process and herein lies some of the exhibition’s strengths. It therefore not only appeals to the full spectrum of artists at varying stages in their creative journey, but a broad spectrum of the community are attracted to attend.
Albany already has an elite art award in the form of the Albany Art Prize which is known for attracting high end art from all over Australia and offers lucrative prizes. So let’s keep the Great Southern Art Award as an exhibition that all artists can participate in, presenting the public with the full spectrum of diverse art being created within our community.
I challenge the City of Albany to always award a prize for each section and brief their judges of their joint responsibility to award every category. They are after all judging on behalf of the City of Albany, representing its residents and rate payers .
On a final note, I often hear people say that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. Decisions like the one I speak of do not aid the community in engaging with artistic pursuits, nor are such decisions helpful in the promotion of art as a worthy undertaking. Artists are generally their own harshest critics and often in their formative years timidly shy away from sharing their gift for fear of humiliation and rejection. The creation of art is the presentation of the individual’s interpretation of the world around them, injected with their personality, values, opinions, dreams, and hopes. It is the exposing of their soul to the public. The courage shown by an artist bravely exhibiting their creation should ultimately be celebrated.
I would like to invite other artists and community members to comment here, sharing their thoughts about this issue openly and honestly. How did you feel about this decision?
The comments made herein only represent my personal interpretation of and personal opinions about the artwork exhibited. They should not be mistaken for an expression of artistic statement by the artists mentioned. My intention in discussing artwork within this blog is to open a broader community conversation, beyond the limiting discussions of what is deemed “good” and “bad”, instead focusing the conversation upon how art is seen and interpreted, representing various points of view.