Thursday, April 22, 2010

Threadneedle - just another art prize in 2010?

This post tells you what you need to do to enter the Threadneedle Prize - plus it notes the changes in scope and awards.

I've got to start by saying that I'm really disappointed that the unique features which made this Prize so very different in 2008 appear to have evaporated by 2010.

There are three main changes which I've commented on below.

Main change for 2010 #1

The website has changed and is now more attractive and flexible. Don't be confused - the horrible brown thing is no more!

Main change for 2010 #2

For its third year, this award has done an about face.

Back in 2008, I applauded the brand new Threadneedle Prize for being bold enough to allow the £25,000 first prize to be determined by the public from a selected shortlist - by people visiting the exhibition and those reviewing images online and voting online. A separate prize of £10,000 was at the time awarded by the Selectors Panel.

The image chosen by the public in 2008 was superb - but probably surprised quite a few people.

In 2009, the first prize continued to be chosen by the public.

Threadneedle Prizes 2010, 8 prizes totaling £41,000

  • The Threadneedle Prize: £25,000
  • The Visitors’ Choice: £10,000
  • Finalists (6 awarded): each £1,000
Now in 2010, the shortlist for the £25,000 first prize will be chosen by a panel of Selectors who will also now get to choose who receives the first prize of £25,000. This "same old, same old" process makes this competition like every other in the UK!
Selectors will award the winner of the £25,000 Threadneedle Prize based on a shortlist of seven works chosen by them which will be published at the end of June.
Meanwhle the 'new' £10,000 Visitors Prize is being touted as if this was something new as opposed to downgrading what was unique about the frst prize in the first two years of this exhibition. It also presumably means we don't have any online voting this year. I certainly can't find any evidence of any.

I think this is really, really sad.

For me, one of the reasons I was happy to highlight the Threadneedle Prize was because of the emphasis on it being a people's prize.

In returning it to an arena where unfortunately there is always potential for the "who do you know' game to be played out it devalues what made this prize distinctive. It's just now one of many. Plus it diminsihes the role of the public in being able to say what they like about art.

Before going on to to highlight the selectors, I just want to emphasise that my comments are not personal to them. I don't know any of them. They may be a very fine panel. My comments are entirely targeted at the change in the underlying way in which the major award is chosen and also at the reality of what has happened elsewhere with other prizes in the past. I really do hope that I won't be disappointed in their selection and won't have any whiff or sniff of "buggins turn" or who's friends with who.

In addition the panel of selectors has been reduced. The three people who will select and award the Threadneedle Prize this year are:
  • Dr Xavier Bray, has been Assistant Curator of 17th and 18th Century European paintings at the National Gallery, London, since 2002. He recently curated his first solo National gallery exhibition The Sacred Made Real
  • David Rayson, Professor of Painting and Head of Fine Art at the Royal College of Art, and
  • Michael Sandle RA who resigned from the RA in 1997 – staying out seven years - in protest over what he construed as the Academy’s ‘ducking and weaving’ over the inclusion of the Myra Hindley portrait – against the wishes of the mother of one of the ‘Moors Murders’ victims.
His work voices criticisms of what Sandle describes as ‘the heroic decadence’ of capitalism, in particular its appetite for global conflict. He has also attacked the media for packaging and sanitising the destructiveness of war
RA website
I'll just comment that what we have here is a panel of people from major art establishments - the National Gallery, the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts. It's pretty much the way they used to do things back in Paris in the nineteenth century.

It will be very interesting to see if both they and the visitors (ie not 'the public' due to the lack of the online vote) select the same piece. Of course to make the visitor selection fair and objective, the panel's selection would have to be made at the end of the show! ;)

I would argue that one of the reasons the Threadneedle was an enormous success in 2008 was precisely because the prize was NOT determined by a panel of judges. All they could do was select seven artworks from which the ultimate Threadneedle Prizewinner was to be chosen.

It's been interesting to see how the selectors have chosen prizewinners each year which did NOT accord with the public's view of what they thought was the best piece. Plus I can't be the only person who thought the selectors didn't even chhose the seven best pieces in either year.

It may be that people feel that opening the competition to a public online vote also leads to all the 'naughty' vote-rigging schemes which usually require a United Nations presence. However there has never been a sense of that and I can only assume that somebody somewhere thought that judges shouldn't be relegated to only judging the also ran' prize! The Press Release certainly provides no clues.

Main change for 2010 #3 (updated)

The next main change is that the figurative emphasis has been much diminished. I thought the word had entirely disppeared from the website but Lewis (Director at the Mall Galleries) points out to me that he's very committeed to the continued emphasis on figurative and directed me to the About Page which states
The Threadneedle Prize showcases the best new figurative and representational art in Britain today. Its purpose is to encourage artists with real commitment and vision to submit fresh, powerful and intriguing work created especially for the competition
About the Threadneedle Prize
I think the problem I'm having is that the font size is tiny and I need to zoom to be able to read text onscreen.

OK - so we realised in 2008 how few people actually understood what figurative art was - or how few good definitions there were of figurative art! However there was a very good case for making a prize dedicated to figurative art simply because one did not exist! How will the case for figurative art, or using the term in an intelligent way, ever be made if the Prize itself 'ducks and weaves' from making use of the word in its title?

Put bluntly - is it a prize about figurative art or is it a prize about painting and sculture. There are lots of prizes for the latter but few which emphasise the figurative and that's what is and should be distinctive about this prize in my view.

This is what the website now says about the type of work which are eligible for the competition. My personal views is that there should be more emphasis on and prominence for the words 'figurative' and 'representational' in the what to submit part of the website - which says

Works should be based on observation and experience, not on a conceptual or abstract world. Artists are encouraged to engage, excite and challenge the public on subjects of contemporary and topical significance. Submissions based on the human figure and other major themes are also welcome.

Works can be submitted in a variety of media: paintings, original prints and drawings, sculptures, mixed media constructions, reliefs and other figurative installations. Photography and video is only acceptable within other mixed media installations.

Sculpture is an important component of this exhibition and in 2010 we are committed to attracting the highest quality of sculpture entries.

I am not confident that this will be realised in practice.

In fact I'd actually be prepared to take a bet now that the piece which wins will be neither based on observation or experience and will be conceptual and controversial. That's based on some of the pieces selected in previous years by the selection panel.

If every one of the pieces selected fulful the criteria I will of course offer a fulsome apology!

How to enter

Right - now for the nitty gritty. This is going to be a set of links to where you need to look for all the relevant info.
  • Who can enter? Artists of all nationalities aged 18 or over, living or working in the UK, are encouraged to submit up to three new works created since 1 January 2009. Experience or age will not be a benchmark for selection.
  • What to submit: You can submit up to three entries - all completed since 2009. See above for the scope of entries. As is usual for most competitions these days the sculpture and 3D works have to submit work as digital files in the first instance. All artwork has to be for sale and 45% commission is charged on all sales during the exhibition.
  • How to register: You can't submit work unless you register and you need to register by 17th May for sculpture and 3D work and 1st June for paintings, drawings and 2D work. You can register online at the Threadneedle Registration page (on the Mall galleries website)
  • How to deliver work - outside London: there are regional handing-in and collection points.
  • Where you submit entries in London: In London, last year I predicted that the actual submission of works would be fraught with problems due to its location in South Hackney (0f huge distance from tube and very strict parking warden fame). This year life should be a tad easier albeit the location is not straightforward to access - however it is next to my local Tescos!
    works should be delivered, unpacked, to Warehouse 7 at 3 Mills Studios between 10am-5pm on the following Receiving Days: Sat 5, Sun 6 and Mon 7 June. Works can only be accepted at 3 Mills Studios on these Receiving Days. Works will not be accepted at the Mall Galleries.
  • Fees payable, labelling and all remaining rules - see The Rules
The exhibition will be at the Mall Galleries from 2 - 18 September 2009.

and finally.....

I feel genuinely disappointed that a Prize which was actually adopting a different way of doing things and which highlighted a form of art which has been sadly neglected should apparently get absorbed back into 'the establishment' way of doing things.

The proof will be in the selection. I can't wait!

(Note: This post has been revised and updated since the original post published on Thursday 22nd April)

Links to former posts on this blog about the Threadneedle Prize



  1. Very interesting story about this competition, Katherine. I have to agree it would have been so nice to keep it a "people's choice award". I wish we had more of it in the U.S. as well.

  2. Your link to the prize doesn't work: (it's trying to go to a blogger page)

    Also I'm going to put this out there: I'm out of the country for the receiving days and unaccepted collection days and was wondering if anyone else would be willing to take/collect my work if they're entering too? (I'm away May 17-June 17) I'm happy to compensate someone! The (new) description for the competition is so precisely how I think of my work that I can't resist entering!

  3. Firstly, thank you for this blog Katherine - I only recently discovered it and it's excellent! I agree with you the loss of the "People's Choice" is a real shame - thanks for pointing out the changes. The public visisting should perhaps make their views known, and yes it will be interesting to hear what the outcome is....hopefully you will keep us posted.

  4. Tina - that's the new website - it just looks like a blog!

    I've amended the post to indicate that there is a third big change - a brand new website

    Tina - I'll write to you....


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