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Follow the Billions: Museum Directors Line Up Behind Pinchuk’s Prize

Left to right: Glenn Lowry, Victor Pinchuk and London dealer Jay Jopling at the Museum of Modern Art during Tuesday’s press preview of its upcoming Orozco retrospective

Does anyone besides me find it unseemly that four major museum directors—Glenn Lowry (MoMA), Richard Armstrong (Guggenheim), Nicholas Serota (Tate) and Alfred Pacquement (Pompidou)—have lent their prestigious imprimaturs to the new Future Generation Art Prize, a $100,000 biennial award for an artist under 35, which is being organized not under museum auspices but by Victor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian billionaire art collector?

Lowry was solicitously squiring Pinchuk around the Museum of Modern art on Tuesday, while journalists and critics (including me) were there in force for a preview of a retrospective that didn’t, for me, give a sufficiently satisfying answer to the question, “Why Orozco?”. Curator Ann Temkin herself raised (and unconvincingly attempted to address) that question during her opening remarks.

But back to the Pinchuk prize: It’s one thing for the Tate, the Guggenheim and the New Museum to organize and administer their own artists’ prizes (the Turner, Hugo Boss and Ordway, respectively). It’s another for museum heavyweights to promote a prize established by a private collector who, at this writing, has announced no jury and no pre-selection committee. He HAS said that work of 20 shortlisted artists will be shown at his PinchukArtCentre in Kiev next year from the end of October to the end of December.

As members of the competition’s board, the four museum directors are supposed to insure “continuity and development of the Prize,” according to the announcement of their names on the prize’s website. The board also counts four major artists (Koons, Hirst, Murakami, Gursky) among its 13 members, as well as collector Dakis Joannou (who has been much in the news of late).

The megacollector’s Kiev art center already holds a competition (with more modest prizes) for under-35 Ukrainians. The first winners were announced earlier this month. (You can see their work by clicking their names.)

I’ve got nothing against rewarding artists, although there seems lately to have been a proliferation of these publicity-driven exercises in talent-scouting. Such projects sometimes seem designed to call as much attention to their places of origin as to the recipients. For example, the Wolgin Prize, administered by the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, is not just meant to reward good work but also to function as “an economic engine…There are some great economic benefits for the city [Philadelphia],” according to its founder (and funder) Jack Wolgin. Jack has Victor beat, though, with his award’s $150,000 payout. (The first Wolgin winner: Ryan Trecartin.)

Pinchuk, who intends to build a new, larger contemporary art center in downtown Kiev (as he last month told John Varoli of Bloomberg), is determined to turn Kiev “into one of the main centers of contemporary art in the world,” as he explained yesterday to Bloomberg‘s Katya Kazakina. “There is New York. There’s London. And there will be Kiev. Everyone will come and say, ‘Wow!'”

Artists will be able to nominate themselves via an application that will be online beginning Jan. 18. Other contenders will be nominated by 100 unnamed “art experts from all over the world.” One strange requirement, as reported by Carol Vogel in Tuesday’s NY Times, is that “$40,000 of the purse must go into the production of art.” Why? “Pinchuk wanted to ensure that the winner keeps working,” Vogel explained.

What if an artist’s practice is such that he doesn’t need to spend that much on production?

I guess that means that he or she just isn’t a “Wow” artist.

an ArtsJournal blog