Philadelphia critic Edward Sozanski makes a case against the new trend toward monster art prizes like Michigan’s $250,000 award in Grand Rapids:
This sudden efflorescence of art competitions might strike some artists as ironic because fine art has never been held in particularly high regard in this country. These prizes don’t change that; on the surface, they seem to be more about marketing, commercialism, and, in Grand Rapids, entertainment and civic boosterism.
The Michigan ArtPrize is different from most other competitions in that the winner – this year a Brooklyn realist painter, Ran Ortner – is chosen by public vote. The sponsor, Amway heir Rick DeVos, might have borrowed the concept from sports all-star balloting or reality television.
Even when the Pew fellowships were the ultimate prize, I often marveled at how assiduous the prize administrators tried to be in ensuring that the competitions were as “objective” and “fair” as mandarins of art could make them. They set up two-stage blind jurying to ensure that neither familiarity nor favoritism could influence the result.
This expectation was naive in the extreme; in any art competition judged by insiders, individual taste, prejudices, favoritism, and familiarity influence the outcome.
A review of the Pew visual-arts awards over the last two decades reveals that while the various juries have made a fair number of meritorious choices, they’ve also perpetrated some howlers, awards so undeserved that only bias or incompetence can explain them.
However much prize adminstrators strive for inclusiveness and fairness, they can’t overcome what is usually a lottery. Only artists who enter have a chance to win. With such astounding amounts of money at stake, this is not only unfair but unacceptable.
(The new Wolgin prize is different in this regard; artists don’t put themselves forward but are nominated by what Tyler School of Art, the prize administrator, describes as an “international panel.” It’s odd, then, that this year’s three Wolgin finalists live in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago.)
A more serious systemic flaw is the fact that many artists are excluded from consideration in juried competitions because the kind of art they make isn’t favored by either the art market or the art establishment. […]
Finally, giving a quarter-million dollars, or even $150,000, to a single person is inherently ridiculous and risibly unfair to the thousands of talented artists who are equally deserving of recognition and support.
Serious Flaws in Prize Paradigm (Philly.com)