Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016

This is the first in a series of three articles about prestigious portrait competitions in the USA and Australia 2016.

I've written about them before, but the purpose of the three articles is to:
  • show portrait artists around the world what styles of portraiture are valued in different countries and cultures
  • alert people to the opportunities and exhibitions about top level portraiture which exist around the world
  • stimulate thinking about portrature
[Note: I'd be very happy to hear from any of you as to the top level portrait competitions in your country.]

The first three I'm featuring are:
  • The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition (USA)
  • The Archibald Prize (Australia)
  • The Moran Prize (Australia)
The first is The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016 - which you can see online

First page of the online exhibition of The Outwin 2016

The Outwin Boochever Competition and Prize

Why it exists

The aim is to
showcase excellence and innovation with a strong focus on the variety of portrait media used by artists today.

The competition is named for Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920-2005), a former Portrait Gallery volunteer who endowed this new prize through a generous gift.
Always interested in people, Mrs. Boochever saw the endowment of a portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery as a way to benefit artists directly. Her knowledge of the portrait museums of England, Scotland, and Australia allowed her to understand the role their competitions play in encouraging portraiture, and she saw the endowment as a unique opportunity to fill a void in the American art world.
National Portrait Gallery - Virginia Outwin Boochever

Facts about the competition

One of the many fascinating aspects of this competition is for viewers to be exposed to the tremendous variety of portraiture created today.
  • Artists from all over America are invited to investigate the art of contemporary portraiture. Eligible artists need to be a professional artist at least 18 years old (as at date stated on Call for Entries) who both lives and works in the United States or its territories at the time of the competition.
A professional artist earns a significant portion of his or her income from their art and regularly shows works in solo and group exhibitions. FAQs
  • Held every three years (2006, 2009, 2013, 2016). The next one will be in 2019
  • Call for Entries for 2016 were accepted between August 1 - November 30, 2014.  You can therefore expect the Call for Entries for the next one to be in 2017 (Easy to miss - make a note in your diaries!)  This was the Call For Entries for the Outwin Boochever 2016 issued in July 2014.
  • Eligible artwork: the work entered must be 
    • based on your direct contact with a living individual, and the human figure must predominate.
    • single figures, groups, or self-portraits, created in any visual arts medium
  • Eligible media: all media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, prints, photography, textiles, performance and digital media.
  • Entries require one or two JPEG images of the work. Each image should be 1920 x 1920 pixels and no larger than 1.8 megabytes.
  • FAQS about the competition in 2016 has a page
  • The entry fee is $45 and  is non-refundable.
  • around 2,500 works were submitted in 2016; artwork submitted covered a variety of visual arts media
  • Entries are submitted online 
  • Initial judgement is of the online image only by an online jury system.
  • only 42 pieces are in the exhibition 
  • chance of getting selected: 1.72%
  • Themes: jurors may choose to select to a theme
The jurors considered this exhibition a synopsis of historical and cultural events that have unfolded in the past three rounds, particularly in terms of race, sexual identity, gender and concerns about protecting childhood in an age of technology and gun violence.
You can keep track of the competition - and other matters relating to portraiture - on the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery blog called Face to Face.
  • A number of blog posts feature individual finalists in this year's exhibition.  
  • These cover what inspired the portrait artist and how they developed their work
  • This is the blog about The Outwin 2016 - Opening Party

About portraiture

This is what they have to say about portraiture
Figurative artists working in all media are exploring portraiture. Artists know that a portrait can communicate much more than a likeness. Personal identity, cultural differences, illusory moments—all can be captured through portraits. Portraits are created in a dizzying variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video and other time-based media, even images based on individual DNA. It’s up to artists to figure out how best to depict those close to them.
Observation: I was rather surprised by the number of portraits selected which lacked backgrounds or context or any sense of the place the person inhabits in reality, or their mind or otherwise - things which also communicate about who this person is. I found this very odd.

The juror's perspective

The jurors for this and previous competitions are listed on this Jurors page.

The Director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Chief Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. are fixtures and there is generally other gallery representation. Also included are respected academics, critics and an artist or photographer.

A blog post The Outwin 2016: A Conversation discusses

  • How are artists who live and work in the United States defining portraiture in a global, contemporary context? 
  • Has the definition of portraiture shifted in the last three years?

Observation: Artists is used in a very macro way and yet in terms of people selected the bias is very much towards people from the East Coast with 29 of the 43 selected artists coming from an area between Boston and Washington. Whether this is representative of where portrait artists live and work is debateable.

Prizewinners and Commended in 2016

Those winning prizes are:

First prize 

The first place winner receives $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living individual for the museum’s permanent collection.  (So far as I can see there are no second or third prizes other than the honour!)

Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance)
copyright Amy Sherald, Baltimore, MD
2013 Oil on canvas
Collection: Frances and Burton Reifler
“Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance).” by Amy Sherald

  • b.1973, Columbus GA
  • Current home: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Education: 1997 Bachelor of the Arts, Clark-Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA; 2004 Master of Fine Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • Collections: Include Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery; The United States Embassy Dakar, Senegal; The National Museum of African American History and Culture; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, Amy Sherald was mindful of the “appropriate” behavior expected of her as an African American girl. Inspired by artists such as Kerry James Marshall and Barkley Hendricks, Sherald creates innovative, dynamic portraits that, through color and form, confront the psychological effects of stereotypical imagery on African American subjects. Her subjects are often set in whimsical, nondescript settings with surreal details that add a bit of satire. The dreamlike backgrounds create what the artist refers to as “the amorphous personal space of my own existence within the context of black identity and my search for ways to clarify and ground it.” Using light gray paint, Sherald “omits” skin color so her subjects appear both realistic and otherworldly.

Second prize

Mavis in the backseat
copyright Cynthia Henebry, Richmond, VA
2013 Inkjet print
Collection of the artist

Cynthia Henebry of Richmond, Virginia, photograph titled, “Mavis in the backseat.” (see interview in "The Outwin 2016" Finalist: Cynthia Henebry)
Cynthia Henebry’s photographic work explores the relationship between order and chaos in the internal lives of children and adults. Drawing inspiration from artists such as Judith Joy Ross, Andrea Modica, Mark Steinmetz, and Jim Goldberg, Henebry grew up under the watchful eye of her mother’s camera in the 1970s and 1980s. She explains, “I think that being seen (and not seen) by her—with the camera and without—impacted me in ways I am aware of as well as only beginning to understand.” In Mavis in the backseat, she captures a girl around five years old in the back of the family station wagon in a moment of interrupted thought. Mavis’s inscrutable expression shifts emotions, ultimately settling into a penetrating gaze.
Observation: The Outwin Boochever is the BP Portrait Award and the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize all rolled into one. It's great that all visual media is acceptable - but less good that so few people get exhibited. (given that c.50+ painters get exhibited in BP portrait and c.50+ photographers get exhibited in Taylor Wessing). It's a bigger incentive to go for a competition in which you have a better chance of getting your medium of choice exhibited.  Which might account for why both competitions have do many international entries!

Third prize

Eugene #4
copyright Joel Daniel Phillips, Oakland, CA
2014, Charcoal and graphite on paper
Collection: Ken Stone

Joel Daniel Phillips of Oakland, California for a drawing titled, “Eugene #4.”
Eugene #4 is part of Joel Daniel Phillips’s ongoing series No Regrets in Life, which examines the people Phillips regularly encounters on the corner of Sixth and Mission Streets in San Francisco. These life-size charcoal and graphite drawings are meticulously rendered tributes to those who live on the margins of society. Phillips writes, “the renderings are an attempt to play with our voyeuristic tendencies toward the indigence surrounding us, hiding in plain sight. In these portraits, the subjects cease to be dark matter in our communal space and instead are revealed to be the main characters in their own narrative.” By situating the subjects on a spare white sheet, Philips removes them from the decaying environment that has come to define them. Instead, he brings into sharp focus the individual’s psychological complexity and humanity.
Observation: Great to see a drawing is accepted media in a national and prestigious prize about portraiture and that drawings can win prizes. I very much recommend those who like portrait drawings to look also at the other fine drawings by artists selected for the exhibition.

I predict that those portrait artists who draw and want to enter the BP Portrait award but unable to so because portraits are limited to oils and acrylics will be cheering and spitting feathers at the same time when they see this work winning a prize!


Those commended are:

You can also see videos of interviews with more prizewinners, commended artists and selected artists from previous years.

The Exhibition

This exhibition features 43 pieces including sculptures, mixed-media pieces, photographs, paintings and drawings.
The exhibition is on display in Washington
  • Venue -  the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery 8th and F Streets, NW Washington, DC (Location: 2nd Floor, West) This is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C.
  • Dates: from March 12, 2016 through Jan. 8, 2017
Plus you can also view it online. You need to click either the English or Spanish portal button.
 to view the portraits

More about the competition



My past blog posts:

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