Converse has a long history of sponsoring creative projects. But, on the whole, these have primarily related to disciplines such as music and street art and it’s fairly obvious how and why such things connect with the identity of the brand. Now, for the second year running, Converse, together with Dazed & Confused, are sponsoring a new UK art prize for emerging artists in collaboration with London’s prestigious Whitechapel Gallery that places them directly within the action of the notoriously tricky world of contemporary art.
As those who are actually in the know will testify (in hushed tones in private), anyone who says that the contemporary art world is not elitist or exclusive is either not really part of it or writing a press release for an august institution hoping to keep the agendas of statutory agencies at bay. The same goes for art prizes. Anyone can set up an art prize: let’s face it; there are enough starving artists in the world to enter work into competition in the hope of winning anything. But, establishing a new art prize credible to both the broader art-interested public and, more importantly, to the insiders in the weird world of contemporary art is no mean feat. The contemporary art world is as bitchy about half-baked art prizes as it is about bad art no matter how good the intention.
In an irony that almost mirrors the freakonomics of the contemporary art market itself, the contemporary art cognoscenti will often shun a bombastic art prize offering a huge cash prize that fails to follow some of the key ‘rules’ whilst embracing far more modest prizes that do.
But, the Converse/Dazed Emerging Artists Award is making all the right moves. The all-important panel of judges is a perfectly balanced sextet that ticks all the right boxes. It includes the likes of highly successful gallery owner Sadie Coles, distinguished artist Eva Rothschild and respected Whitechapel Gallery curator Kirsty Ogg. With such members on the panel, even the upper echelons of the contemporary art world’s unspoken hierarchy could hardly fault it. To this bring in the voices of the media and the younger blood of the London contemporary art scene – in the form of Dazed’s own visual arts editor Francesca Gavin; Paul Pieroni, the curator of the SPACE exhibition programme and Darren Flook, curator-turned-gallerist – and you have the ideal recipe for an art prize for emerging talent that will be both credible in the complex terms of the contemporary art world whilst accessible to the broader audiences interested in titles like Dazed & Confused or brands like Converse.
And, in this sense, it’s also proof that when the Whitechapel Gallery asserts that art need not be elitist in its press releases, it is one of the exceptions that prove the rule. The whole history of the Whitechapel Gallery, based in London’s East End for over a century, and originally intended to bring art to where the sun don’t shine, is one of a genuine belief that no sector of society should be denied access to art. Like its famous Open and various other initiatives aimed at broadening access to the visual arts, the Converse/Dazed Emerging Artists Awards is an entirely congruent collaboration for this much-loved London institution.
The Converse/Dazed 2011 Emerging Artists Award is open to all UK-based artists working in any medium under the age of 35 who are not currently represented by a gallery or in full-time education. But those who are keen to participate should be quick to get their skates on as entries close on 30 June 2011.