here’s someone else asking questions about one of the largest prizes going that nobody knows about. what’s wrong with this picture.
Posted by Cinque Hicks on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM
If you’re active in the intown Atlanta art scene, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the Hudgens Center for the Arts. And even if you have, odds are you’ve never been there.
The Hudgens Center is known to Duluth residents as part of the sprawling Gwinnett Center, a multipurpose complex running along an otherwise undistinguished stretch of suburban asphalt 12 miles outside I-285. It’s also home to the newly established Hudgens Prize. Announced last winter as both an art prize and a “juried show,” the winner-take-all prize includes $50,000 in cash provided anonymously by a Duluth-based family foundation for a single Georgia artist. The prize jury boasts a trio of bona fide national and international art world players: Sylvie Fortin, executive director of Art Papers; Eungie Joo, director of education and public programs at New York’s New Museum; and David Kiehl, curator of prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art, also in New York.
After nine months and almost 400 artist entries, the Hudgens announced its five finalists: Ruth Dusseault, Hope Hilton, Gyun Hur, Scott Ingram and Jiha Moon. All five are familiar names to Atlanta art-world cognoscenti. The final winner will be announced Nov. 30.
The strange thing is what happened immediately following the announcement of the finalists. Basically nothing. The chattering classes of the art world, always eager to express an opinion about who should’ve gotten what, mostly fell silent. The press produced a trickle; the blogosphere, crickets. Even social networkers didn’t move the needle, preferring to report on making a ham sandwich or someone’s cat doing something cute.
At $50,000, the Hudgens Prize is a big deal. It leaves the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Prize ($20,000) in its dust and nips at the heels of the U.K.’s Turner Prize, (around $63,000), the paragon of prestigious art prizes. Both prizes solidify artists’ careers. They’re seals of approval, validating artists ready to box with the big boys and girls. The same is true of a handful of even larger prizes, such as the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize, weighing in at a hefty hundred grand.
Although clearly no Turner Prize, $50,000 is certain to be a game-changer for the winning artist. That kind of scratch buys a lot of supplies and studio space. More importantly it buys time, the one commodity most artists find themselves always short on between day jobs and the busy work of daily life. But what the Hudgens Prize will mean to the artist’s career, the arts in Metro Atlanta and the Hudgens Center’s place in the arts community is far less certain.
According to Angela Nichols, the Hudgens’ director of education and public programs, the prize was established not only to support an individual artist, but to raise the stature of the arts in Georgia and the profile of the Hudgens Center. So why hasn’t it generated more buzz?
If money is the gasoline that fuels the engine of the art world, prestige is the oil. It’s nasty, but it’s the unctuous stuff that eases relations between people and keeps the system running. The prize may have gotten the cash right, but the elusive prestige has so far been a no-show.
Questioning a $50,000 give-away might seem ungrateful to many within the arts community and outrageous to those outside it. And if the prize’s only goal were to swell an individual artist’s bank account, then it would be outrageous. But from its inception, the prize was designed to spotlight an entire community as much as a single artist. That price tag should be enough to buy a spot on the art-world map. That’s why this unprecedented gesture is worth pursuing and worth getting right.
Some solutions are easy: Axe the prize’s $50 entry fee, for starters. Entry fees are for street fairs and amateur contests, not for major prizes meant to engage professional artists. Also, the fairly arbitrary limitations on format and size (works had to be less than 60 inches in any direction) not only discouraged the most ambitious work in traditional media, it seemed to deny altogether the most vital practices occurring in contemporary art, such as installation and performance. That’s fine if the top prize is $250, but not when the check is considerably larger.
Currently, the anonymous funders conceive the prize as a one-time event. That would be the gravest mistake of all. A one-time infusion of cash to a single artist would have almost no effect on anyone other than the winner. The multiplier effect of an art prize can come only over time, alongside a buildup of courageous programming and outreach that also continues to raise the Hudgens Center’s stature over the long haul. Continuing the prize would be the only sane way to protect the initial investment.
The Hudgens Prize is an tremendous opportunity for an artist and a wonderful addition to the metro Atlanta art world. With some adjustments, it could make a mark not only in one artist’s life, but in the life of every artist in the state.