Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Count the number of art competitions that no longer exist....

The only thing that is certain in this world is "change".

Which is why, one of the things that is certain in the art world is that art competitions change over time.

What's surprising me right now is just how many of the more major competitions in the UK have completely disappeared in recent time. 

  • I last wrote about this prior to lockdown back in early 2020 in The Disappearing Art Competitions 
  • Since when we've had confirmation more have been lost and the art competition 'maketplace' has changed significantly in the UK.

I thought it was time for AN UPDATE. Below I list those art competitions

  • which will not be taking place in 2021
  • which still exist and will take place
  • those replacing past competitions
  • minor art competions

plus why art competitions are important to artists.

By way of a preamble, I am absolutely convinced this is all about two things:

FIRST we're still experiencing coronavirus interruptus syndrome, i.e. the very long "stall" associated with not knowing when things are going to get back to normal. Right now I don't expect thing to approach normal until 2022 - but I do also expect people to be planning for this right now!

SECOND there is an absolute DEARTH of key components for a prestigious art competition. These are:

  • key people whose networks enable them to prize out sponsorship money from corporate bodies which can afford it
  • strategic thinking within some regional museums - in relation to the traffic which can be generated by a good art competition
  • organisations which want to be associated with significant art prizes.
  • organisations with expertise and practical experience in developing efficient and effective art competitions with significant prizes (i.e. why are we losing all these top art competitions?)

By way of contrast, I am also noticing that some national art societies are getting very good at generating / replacing very good levels of sponsorship for prizes for their open exhibitions.  

  • I now highlight clearly those national art societies which people should take a close look at on the basis of prize money alone.
  • This should make artists think about whether they are applying for the right  open exhibitions!  PROMPT to my recent client: this is what I was talking about! :)

Art Competitions that no longer exist in 2021

BP Portrait Award

The last BP Portrait exhibition in the NP

In the past, we've had wobbles due to losing sponsors or moving to different sponsor or queries about the appropriateness of sponsors.
  • Hence the John Player Portrait Award became the BP Portrait Award and latterly that sponsorship drew a lot of criticism.This started as the John Player Award in 1980.

The Portrait Award was inaugurated in Feb 1980, when it was sponsored by Imperial Tobacco. It was a competition for young painters, with a prize of £7000. It was conceived as a way of supporting young artists and encouraging them to take up portraiture.

  • BP took over the sponsorship in 1989
  • Both sponsors drew criticism for being 'inappropriate'
  • In 2020, they were unable to hold the exhibition due to covid restrictions and held it online instead
  • Latterly they had moved galleries within the NPG and started to hang fewer paintings - which downgraded it in my eyes and made it VERY crowded!
  • There has been no call for entries for a 2021 exhibition.

In principle, this is "on a break" while the National Portrait Gallery is renovated.

The National Portrait Gallery will not be staging the BP Portrait Award in 2021 and 2022 while the building in St Martin’s Place is closed for our Inspiring People redevelopment. We realise this will be disappointing to many, but having carefully considered all of the options, it is simply not possible for us to stage the competition in the way we would wish while the Gallery is closed.

I have no doubt it will be back - but I rather suspect it will have a new sponsor when it does. Mainly on the basis that the NPG won't want pots of crude oil thrown around in its nice new foyer....

Here's a list of the winners of the award to date

John Player Portrait Award

BP Portrait Award

My blog posts cover 2007 to 2020.

You can see past winners under BP sponsorship here 


Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize

  • This was a significant figurative art prize which attracted very good art and artists.
  • it seems to have disappeared without a trace. i.e. absolutely nothing on their "other prizes" page on the Painter-Stainers website.
  • the website is dead
  • There is no Call for Entries in 2021

It has been replaced by support for another initiative, which I shall write about soon.

My own view is that there is no chance of this art competition re-appearing unless and until another sponsor wants to collaborate with the Painter-Stainer's. (i.e. the driving force at the Lynn Foundation died in 2019).

Jennifer McRae - the last winner of the Lynn Painter-Stainer's Award

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition

  • The dedicated website is completely dead 
  • there is no call for entries in 2021 - the latest details relate to 2020
  • no exhibition is listed for 2021
  • there's been nothing on the Facebook Page since February
The prizewinner's wall in 2019

I said when reviewing the Call for Entries for the last exhibition that it looked like an art competition which was dying on its feet - in terms of sponsorship and prizes - READ 10 changes in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2020 Call for Entries - and so it appears this has come to pass.
The significant reduction in prize money and other prizes really takes a LOT of prestige away from this competition. Which is incredibly sad as this competition has been seen as very prestigious for very many years - until recently.

Although whether this is another example of 'coronavirus interruptus' remains to be seen. 

Threadneedle Prize (for figurative art) 

Ana Schmidt: City of Shards
The final awardwinner's exhibition (in 2019)

The Columbia Threadneedle Prize - Figurative Art today (formerly known as The Threadneedle Prize) was a major art prize with a big money prize. 

Latterly the first prize also included a solo exhibition in the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries.

Threadneedle pulled out their financial support for this prize. This seemed to coincide with Lewis McNaught moving on from his Director of the Mall Galleries. Lewis pulled in a lot of sponsorship money while Director.

For me, this highlights just how important it is to have somebody who has very good connections within their network and can raise sponsorship funds from suitable companies if you want a prize to have longevity. 

Those art competitions still in play

The RA Summer Exhibition

Derwent Art Prize 

The 2020 exhibition received over 4500 entries from 72 different countries.  Due to the coronavirus outbreak the physical exhibitions had to be moved to a virtual gallery online.

The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition  

Overhang by Amanda Bates
one of the works I liked in the Virtual Exhibition in 2020

  • Still a reputable exhibition - but has had a swerve of late towards more smaller prizes so not quite as prestigious as it used to be
  • last year had an online exhibition due to lockdown
  • website: https://www.discerningeye.org/exhibition/intro.php
  • READ yesterday's post about the Call for Entries for 2021 - when a hung exhibition at the Mall Galleries is planned alongside a Virtual Exhibition

John Moores Painting Prize 

The trick seems to be to have a very wealthy family backing the competition - with their name on the prize - and a very hospitable art museum associated with it. This is where regional museums can really make a difference!

Those replacing past major art competitions

Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 

  • This has been through a number of incarnation. It used to be the Jerwood Drawing Prize. I have a problem with prizes which claim an inheritance but reveal no details on "the website".
  • there is no 'home' website; just a call for entries website: https://tbwdrawingprize.artopps.co.uk/

The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize was founded in 1994 and is celebrating the 26th consecutive annual exhibition in 2021.
  • Its main attraction are the decent cash prizes: First Prize – £8,000; Second Prize – £5,000; Student Award – £2,000; Working Drawing Prize – £2,000 and Evelyn Williams Drawing Award – £10,000
  • The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2021 exhibition will be launched at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London in September 2021 before touring to venues across the UK.

Minor art competitions

I used to draw the line at featuring art competitions unless:

  • EITHER they had a significant first prize of £10k or more 
  • OR lots of prizes and a prize post which totalled £10k or more. 

One of the reasons for this is below that threshold there are LOTS of art competitions - and they change all the time.

I cover some of those with a pot of c. £5k or more

Jackson's Art Prize

  • this is a minor competition with a total prize pot of £5k
  • Organised by visual literacy charity The Big Draw (formerly The Campaign for Drawing).
  • Last exhibition: The theme: Agent of Change for The John Ruskin Prize 2019 attracted over 3,000 entries from 1,260 artists with 41 artists and designers, working across a broad range of disciplines, selected for the exhibition at The Holden Gallery, Manchester from 11 July - 24 August 2019.
  • You can see Past Winners on the above page for 2019 and in the Archive of the first four exhibitions 
  • There will be no Ruskin Prize in 2021 - the next Ruskin Prize will take place in 2022 - with the Call for Entries in 2021 - but nothing to date - not even when to expect an announcement.
I suspect this is one which is currently a victim of coronavirus interruptus.

Figurative Art Now 

  • website: https://www.mallgalleries.org.uk/call-for-entries/open-exhibitions/figurative-art-now
  • this seems to have been born out of some sort of conception that FAN could replace the Threadneedle Prize - and that all that was needed was an online selling exhibition. This is not true. Online art competitions will never ever have the same kudos as those which can be seen in person in art galleries. 
  • Then it was initially promoted as some sort of 60th anniversary of the FBA - but without involvement of the FBA charities (as I found out)
  • It also had a bad start for a variety of reasons - hence got no promotion from me - but these things happen and it's possible to recover.


In relation to the rest

I wonder about covering them - but since I never get to see them it makes me feel like an advertising machine. On the whole I prefer to deal with those I see and/or those that are so significant I can't not feature them!

and finally.....

why art competitions are important

As I said in my last post.....

In summary: art competitions are really important for
  • newbie artists - because they make them think about standards and processes relevant to an art competition - which can also help them with developing and selling their art generally. Shipping artwork to a client is not very different to shipping to an art competition - except your client will keep the packaging!
  • emerging artists in terms of raising their profile and getting their work seen on a national stage  and by art galleries and agents - often for the first time.
  • improving artists wanting to develop their careers - in terms of demonstrating a track record of being consistently chosen for different art competitions
  • established artists who need to remind people they exist and are still producing quality artwork - and occasionally test their metal! However there can be a downside. It's bad enough being turned down for an art competition when you're an aspiring artist. Think about what it must feel like if you have supposedly already made the grade!!

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