Monday, September 22, 2008

Statement on AWS Gold Medal controversy from President

Below you will find the recent AWS Statement made by Jim McFarlane, the new AWS President, which has now been posted on the 2008-2009 Gold Medal Award page of the American Watercolor Society's website. It's reproduced in full below. This relates to my earlier post Art competitions and copyright - the AWS Gold Medal debate.
2008–2009 AWARDS

Founded 142 years ago, and the oldest watercolor society in America, the American Watercolor Society has had a proud history of promoting the art of watercolor and annually exhibiting the best contemporary watercolors by the best artists working in water based mediums. Our goal has always been to promote original art. Our prospectus clearly and emphatically informs each artist who enters our annual international exhibition that we do not accept “…copies, digital images or prints…” and that by filling out our entry form, they are agreeing to “…comply fully with the conditions and terms set forth…” in our prospectus.

Unfortunately, the Gold Medal winning painting in the 2008 exhibition, “Impermanence” by Sheryl Luxenburg has generated a huge volume of controversy. In question are the ownership of the image, the originality of the piece and even the authenticity of the medium. Many have questioned the American Watercolor Society's position on this problem and wondered in their communications to us whether our society is taking these questions seriously. Rest assured, while it is a difficult problem, from the time we received the first allegation we have been working to determine the truth. At this point an enormous amount of time has been devoted to sorting out the facts surrounding this work.

As the president of the AWS, I can assure you that we take any affront to our reputation very seriously and will bring the matter to a final solution based on a careful consideration of the accusations and the facts as we can determine them. Until that process can be completed, we are removing the painting from our traveling exhibition and from our web page. We are very grateful to those who have offered information to us and welcome any pertinent information that can assist us in fairly, professionally and constructively resolving this matter.

Thank you,
Jim McFarlane, AWS President
September 16, 2008
I predict that this will not be the last time we see a prestigious art society having to address this sort of issue.

I know others have had to do so in the past but, on the whole, societies tend to keep quiet about challenges made, investigations and outcomes. However, it seems that by keeping quiet, the AWS was also in danger of people thinking they were not taking the issues seriously and/or addressing them - and for that reason I very much welcome the statement which has now been made.

It's good to see that this matter is both being taken very seriously and that it is also being progressed. I don't envy Jim McFarlane one little bit. This must be a very significant endeavour. However I do know that there are methods and approach which can resolve with certainty the issues which have been raised in relation to:
  • ownership of the image,
  • the originality of the piece and
  • the authenticity of the medium used.
The AWS would do every other art society a very great service if, at the end of this process (irrespective of the outcome) they identify:
  • how they approached the issues raised
  • what specific actions they took - against a timeline
  • what lessons they learned en route
  • what they would do differently next time.


  1. Delighted to see they are pursuing this. The posts at the photography site as well as wet canvas were eye opening.

  2. I find it shocking that, to date (17 January 2009) the American Watercolor Society has made no further comment as far as I can see.

    They must have examined the image by now and have reached some conclusion.

    I smell a cover-up. Sad really.

  3. I emailed the AWS two weeks ago to ask them if they had an estimate of when they would be issuing a further statement on this matter

    To date I've not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgement - much less a reply to my question.

    On 16th January, AWS announced the names of the people who've been accepted into the 2009/10 Exhibition

    Awards are due to be announced on 18th February.


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