Yesterday on Radio New Zealand I talked to Kathryn Ryan about art competitions and awards
I think art competitions usually have two objectives. One is to recognise artists, and to assist them in a concrete way, usually with cash. The other is to try to draw the public's attention to art and art-making. The aim of the Walters Prize for example (itself modeled on Britain's Turner Prize) is to "make contemporary art a more widely recognised and debated and prominent feature of New Zealand cultural life".
Kathryn and I started off by talking about 'Work of Art', a reality show currently screening in America that applies the 'Project Runaway' format to 14 contemporary artists, who are competing in knock-out rounds ("Your work doesn't work for us"). The winner receives a chunky cash prize and a show at the Brooklyn Museum.
Naturally, not having seen the programme doesn't stop me from feeling like I can make a call on it. Firstly, non-art-world people often have a feeling that artists are weird: extremist, arrogant, hedonistic. Given that reality shows are often set up with stock characters, I doubt this stereotype is going to broken down by Work of Art.
Secondly, I do wonder whether the format has any chance of producing good art. The competitors are given the usual Project Runaway-style deadlines, 24-48 hours, to produce work on a set topic ('make a portrait of another competitor'). It seems like bursary art set on fast forward. And finally, art-making is usually a private process. Designers often work in shared studios with assistants, chefs in crowded kitchens, but artists normally work alone. I'm curious about how this can translate.
I have no idea whether 'Work of Art' will make it over here, and I've yet to seek it out online. In the meantime though you can get a feel for how the series is being received in the New York art world with Carolina Miranda's piece in Time Magazine and this snark-filled three-way in the Village Voice, convened by Christian Viveros-Fauné.