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Friday 09.17.10

« Eva Speer's Landscaping at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art | Main | Interview with Nina Katchadourian »

Ellen Lesperance wins Betty Bowen and analysis

Portland's Ellen Lesperance is the 32nd winner of the Annual Betty Bowen Award and will have a solo show at the Seattle Art Museum beginning October 21st. Congratulations. Absolutely well deserved and a choice nobody saw coming (which is very good).

Analysis: an unexpected and very good choice but I sense a backlash is about to manifest itself begging the question, "must every regional art award in the Pacific Northwest genuflect in some way towards overtly craft oriented or hand made work?"

Not to be provocative, just articulating an observable trend that hasn't really kept up with new media. Obviously, craft is a valid and important part of contemporary art but it's not the whole picture, frankly its representation at the awards level is misleading. So I ask, when will video, photography and installation art that isn't fetishing craft outright be given its due at the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, Betty Bowen (which did award photographer Isaac Layman a few years ago), Bonnie Bronson, Ford Fellowships? ie can any of these awards move beyond a predominantly laborious hand made (looking) world? This is the silicon forest after all, Portland and Seattle's economies are very tech-driven. In short, it's a question of accuracy in recognition since many of our non craft artists are internationally established.

The Pacific Northwest needs to be more conscious of ruts at the awards level.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 17, 2010 at 13:55 | Comments (3)


Are you hallucinating?

Here are the winners for the past 13 years:

1997 Cathy McClure (Sculpture/zoetrope installation)
1998 Michael Howard (Painting)
1999 Ford Galbreath (Photography)
2000 Iole Alessandrini (Installation)
2001 Brian Murphy (Painting)
2002 Ross Palmer Beecher (Mixed media tin constructions)
2003 Dan Webb (sculpture)
2004 Victoria Haven (installation)
2005 Marie Watt (interdisciplinary mixed media)
2006 Margie Livingston (painting)
2007 Oscar Tuazon (sculpture/Installation)
2008 Isaac Laymen (Photography),
2009, Josh Faught (textiles)
2010 Ellen Lesperance

This hardly represents a strong bias towards craft. Furthermore, Lesperance utilizes video and photorgaphy as well. Anyone who looks at this work, and at the work of Josh Faught, can see that craft isn't the point.

Posted by: aggint99 [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2010 05:42 PM

maybe Double J needs to be more conscious of ruts at the blog level

Posted by: Stephan P. Ferreira [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2010 09:16 AM

I'm well aware of the history of the Bowen award (and the others) and your list bears out my analysis. (No craft is not the "main point" of any of theses artists but in most cases it's a strong component).

So let's revisit your research since 2001 (which is when I started tracking this)... also there is nothing wrong with craft but one can say it is accumulating awards while other non hand made work like video is being ignored:

2001 Brian Murphy (Painting... a hand made craft)
2002 Ross Palmer Beecher (Mixed media tin constructions... and very crafty)
2003 Dan Webb (sculpture... his sculptures always feature meticulous craft and my favorite piece of his the suit of armor made of duct tape is very crafty)
2004 Victoria Haven (installation... this is the least craft driven artist on the list but her meticulousness certainly doesn't buck the trend as an aesthetic counterpoint)
2005 Marie Watt (interdisciplinary mixed media... huge amounts of craft)
2006 Margie Livingston (painting... good painter and a friend but... very hand made)
2007 Oscar Tuazon (sculpture/Installation... his accumulation/constructions do have a gee whiz handmade aspect.. Id say this one is debatable, and Michael Darling's very sophisticated influence)
2008 Isaac Laymen (Photography.... mentioned already in my post as a welcome anomaly also Michael Darling's influence),
2009, Josh Faught (textiles... major hand made craft element)
2010 Ellen Lesperance (still a major hand made craft element)

Then there are all of the other awards. Fact is, if you are a conceptual or new media driven artist in the Northwest without a strong craft component the odds are against you awards-wise.

Where is the video art? Especially video art that isn't accompanied by a hand made looking installation? Why does Iole Alessandrini stick out like a sore thumb on this list? Even Isaac Layman's presentation calls a lot of attention to craftyness (espc his pool tables and dresser drawers... etc.)

Factor in the winners of other awards (CNAA,Ford, Bronson) in just the past 5 years and the craft bias is overwhelming. The sad thing is we have a really strong new media output in here in the Northwest and it is being ignored at the awards level.

Ultimately though the craft bias in Northwest art isn't at issue, it's the neglect of non craft work in what are supposed to be major awards. Maybe there needs to be an award that doesn't celebrate hand made craft? At the same time these are not craft awards and should have less of a hand made bias in awardees. There are other relevant criteria and I feel craft gets the nod in these committee driven situations.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2010 10:04 AM

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