AND THE WINNER IS....
As one of the jurors of the Libensky Award 2013, I dived into the projects by graduation students from all over the globe who entered this contest. In Prague at the exposition of the selected works I saw the works in the flesh. Instantly, the difference in judging between the other judges and myself became clear: I disagreed with each and every choice. So we discussed what art is, what glass art and what a good piece of contemporary work.
To explain my point of view on art glass and the art of glass, for the next generation I hang my article Empowerment of Images in Cutting Edge 4, that explains what art is not and what is wrong with form and content. With my experience of seeing art and glass art and my knowledge of the education departments of glass I know that from the technical schools we can hardly expect to see a lot of art. Crafts and techniques prevail there, but I think that if you enter the Libensky Prize you also have to understand the quality of the works by Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova – painter and sculptor – impressing by their clear, strong forms. Combining space and light, mastering material and surviving half a century in all its power and glory.
On this very subject UrbanGlass in NY organizes: Issues In Glass Pedagogy, 5-7/12: Demos, Lectures, Panels and Symposium; “A unique opportunity for glass department heads, faculty members, instructors, and students to discuss with their peers the changing fine-art landscape in academia, best practices in the lecture hall and studio, as well as practical issues. Designed for professors at degree-granting institutions but open to all glass educators, two days of provocative presentations and formal and informal idea exchange will take place at the centre of the New York City art world, with frequent opportunities to network and visit downtown galleries, http://www.urbanglass.org”.
What puzzles me the most is why the entry by Jenny Ritzenhoff in the preliminary round of judging only received my appreciation? The combination of materials textile and glass are in both the 1st and 2nd prize winning objects.
In my opinion it was one of the art works that were sent in.
On her website she writes: “My interest in glass runs in my veins, because my family owns a glass factory in Germany, in other words, I grew up with glass. My artistic interest derives from my other family who were stage designers, painters, architects and dancers. After becoming an architect I felt the desire to go back to my roots, so I started to work with different glassblowers in Germany. I got to know the characteristics and qualities of glass and wanted to free myself from limited approaches towards glass. I chose the Rietveld Academy, because I hoped to find here the freedom of working with glass. And I did. I do installations, because I can integrate the whole space. As an architect I am still interested in the space surrounding us. And I like people to walk between, through and around my work. I like it when people touch my work. And they might get caught in my world.
My work reflects on the question of gender stereotypes, which relates to a biographical background and personal experiences referring to observations I made being a girl, a daughter, a sister, a girl-friend, a mother – and of course being a female part of this society. Wondering, questioning and reflecting is what my work does and it is suggesting answers – more to myself than to anybody else.” http://www.jenny-ritzenhoff.de.
In June 2013 she graduated at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam http://www.gerritrietveldacademie.nl/nl/eindexamens/2013/glas/jenny-ritzenhoff and her work will be shown in April 2014 at the exposition ‘Body talk’, Glasmuseum Ebeltoft, Denmark.
In 1999, I wrote on this topic the article AT WHAT PRICE WE WANT TO WIN A PRIZE?
In the glass world, contests seem to be the new disease.
Next to Young Prizes, Prizes for Oeuvres, Prizes from State, Provincial, National and International Institutes, you will find Glass, Design and Craft Prizes. Invitations for expositions and most commissions for glass in architecture are really organized as contests too and here the First Prize is to be in the exposition or receive the commission to be executed. For organizations contests are the cheapest way to have the highest choice and the most attention. Artists, on the other hand, have to invest in new works, models, designs, calculations and tenders, photo or slide presentations, transportation and insurance. All this in the hope of getting into the spotlight of the glass world’s attention. Experienced artists don’t even bother anymore to send in their works, they just wait to be invited. A flood of amateurs take up their places, leaving the juries with this situation where there is no quality left to award. In the German magazine Kunsthandwerk, in the article Wettbewerbe in der Krise (Contests in Crisis), Gabi Dewald described this situation in the ceramic world and it is not different from that of all other disciplines.
In many contests you see the mechanism that the nationality of the jury members points directly to the prizewinner. You expect that in the former East European and communist countries, but also our ‘civilized’ Western culture is not free of this behaviour. Instead of announcing the jurors’ names, the subject and their selection criteria clearly and in advance – so the artist has an idea what he gets involved in – the inviting organizations make these contests into a knockout race with the artists as direct objects. And mostly forget to send ‘the losers’ a polite explanation why their works weren’t chosen.
Also Uta M. Klotz, general editor from Neues Glas/New Glass, asked questions in the editorial of one of the latest issues in 1999 about the justice in contests with their bad conditions, their strange choices of jury members and the juries’ criticisms based on bad slides.
Rogier de la Rive Box described in his article Curiosity by Design in the magazine Vormberichten how curiosity drives architects, designers and artists into these competitions: the ‘curiosity pull’ makes them want to solve problems. That’s their nature. On the other hand, the commissioners or juries push this curiosity with badly described definitions and formulations of the problems or goals. Since 1972, the Dutch Permanente Prijsvraag Commissie (Permanent Contest Commission) controlled all competitions, but while the architects’ commissions as a result improved the conditions in their booklet Kompas with good guidelines, this bureau was closed leaving the artists and designers unprotected.
I think it is wrong to put these pressures on the artists: only in sport, animal shows, Miss World contests or wars do you want to know who is the conqueror! Organizers should rather do their own homework and invite artists to their ‘parties’ who need their attention and protection. Instead of prestigious prizes they could offer the participants good escorting, providing serious catalogues or grants that can lead to interesting commissions or purchases of the artist’s future work. Luckily you see this attitude more often.
How many times have I been standing there myself, while neither officials, organizers, juries, press nor other Very Important People paid any attention to me or any other artist and the exhibited artworks? Without even having seen the art objects or being introduced to the artists, they had gone home immediately after emptying their champagne glasses! I think it is appalling to use artists and their drive for one’s own prestige and ranking place.
I hope artists, museum directors, gallerists and students do their own homework better too and choose whether they want to be involved in this game of rat races. As Cathy de Monchaux says about her nomination for the Turner Prize: ”Winning is a lottery, but puts your work on the map.”
It is not easy to be honest on your own account, but everything has its price. I think that in the end, the glass art and the artists can gain respect by bringing these frictions into the open.
And respect, in my opinion, can be the only real First Prize.
Art leeches can only exist if we give them the chance to bite us.
To end positively:
A surprisingly good exposition is Young Masters – European Graduates ’08-’13, to be seen at the Glazenhuis Lommel, Belgium until 16/3/2014. Here graduated Masters at European academies in all disciplines were invited to send in their proposals after which a jury made a selection of 11 talented artists who use glass as a jumping-off point in their artistic work.
Please let us know your experiences, maybe in future we can provide the glass world with good conditions, criteria and aims.
©Angela van der Burght, September 2013