Newsletter 467

Published November 28, 2022
Sonia Martignon's winning entry, 'The Charred Mosaic of an Ancient Landscape'

This week saw the presentation of the Korea-Australia Arts Foundation Art Prize, for which Oliver Smith and I acted as judges. It’s the ninth time the prize has been awarded. After a slightly rocky beginning when the judging process was far too complicated, and the judges a mixed bag, the competition has settled into a comfortable groove and continues to attract an ever-increasing number of entrants.

Being a veteran of many art prizes, I’m come to appreciate the pros and cons of such events. I hope an artist who enters the KAAF Prize will believe they stand as good a chance as anyone of being hung or being a winner. Although it’s easy to recognise a wellknown artist’s work we try to be as objective as possible in our choices. When one is trimmimg a field of almost 550 entries down to about 50, there will be lots of painful omissions. Sometimes works are just too big to justify taking away space from other entries, sometimes it’s a matter of choosing between similar works for the balance of the show.

Nobody who judges an art prize should expect to win a popularity contest, but artists need to be philosophical about these matters as well. Some might argue that a prize should have different judges every year. That’s a matter for the organisers, but I’ve become convinced that a degree of continuity is a good thing. Over the years I’ve been judging this prize, I’ve become familiar with the work of artists I wouldn’t normally encounter in galleries and museums. I’ve also met many of those artists and can now put faces to the works.

There’s been a measure of flow-through from year to year. This year’s winner, Sonia Martignon of Darwin, was given a highly commended in 2021, but for 2022 she pulled out all stops and came back with an even better piece. We could hardly miss the effort she had put in, and this gave the picture an added appeal.

The Highly Commendeds this year went to painter, Lizzie Hall, and ceramic sculptor, Helen Earl – both accomplished artists who deserve to be better known. Two Commendeds went to Matt Bromhead and Kevin Song. Of this group of artists, I think Matt is the only one to be represented by a Sydney gallery, namely Olsen’s. There was no big effort on our part to avoid artists with bigger reputations, it’s just the way things worked out on the day. I’d like to think the KAAF Prize will act as a career stepping-stone for prize-winners and finalists.

There’s still room for improvement with the Prize, as the awards ceremony went on too long and too chaotically, but the enthusiasm in the room was palpable, especially among the Korean community who have rallied behind this event. With a first prize of $20,000 the KAAF award may not be the richest competition in town, but it’s possibly the most generous in spirit.

It’s a big Korean week, as the exhbition being reviewed is Do Ho Suh’s survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This is (supposedly) Rachel Kent’s farewell fling as an MCA curator, as it’s a show she inititated several years ago, before taking up the directorship at Bundanon. Like many of Rachel’s exhibitions, it’s the result of a friendship with the artist that evolved over a long period.

Born in South Korea, resident for a long time in New York, and now living in London, Do Ho Suh is a genuinely intriguing figure. His themes are modest – little more than a meditation on home and displacement – but the multi-layered installations he creates are often on a grand scale. It’s a show that deserves to attract a healthy audience over the summer.

This week’s movie review looks at The Menu, a kind of horror-comedy-foodie satire, that features Ralph Fiennes as a chef with a huge reputation, and a serious case of megalomania. It’s funny and grotesque by turns, but buyer beware, it may leave a nasty taste in the mouth.