Thursday, July 12, 2007

Trawick and Sondheim

Tomorrow the Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan will have this excellent piece on the Sondheim Prize in Baltimore. And O'Sullivan makes a couple of key observations about the two major art prizes in the Mid Atlantic region:

The Trawick Prize better watch out. There's an upstart contemporary art award in town, and it stands to give the Bethesda-born competition -- which has been handing out $14,000 in prize money to artists from Maryland, Virginia and Washington since 2003 -- a run for its money.

Okay, so maybe the Baltimore-based Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize isn't exactly "in town." Now in its second year, the art contest, named for the late Baltimore public servant and civic leader and his late wife, is open to visual artists working in the Baltimore region. (This year that includes two D.C. artists.) Examples of work by the 2007 finalists are on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The winner of the Sondheim Prize's $25,000 purse, which unlike the Trawick does not get divided among first-, second- and third-place finishers, will be announced Friday at the museum.

There's another critical difference between the contests, beyond the disparity in the cash value of the prizes. It doesn't have to do with the caliber of the entrants either. (Baltimore sculptor Richard Cleaver, whose painted and bejeweled ceramic-and-wood figures are part of the BMA show of Sondheim finalists, took home the Trawick's $10,000 first prize in 2003. So there's a lot of cross-fertilization of the talent pools, which is good.) Rather, the edge that this year's Sondheim Prize exhibition has over any version of the Trawick competition I've ever seen is in the choice of venue. The art just looks better in the BMA's spacious galleries than anything ever will at the Creative Partners Gallery, the cramped storefront on the ground floor of a downtown Bethesda office building that has been the Trawick's unfortunate exhibition space of choice since its inception.
I agree with O'Sullivan about the Trawick's exhibition location, and in fact I have some strong indications that next year's Trawick may "upgrade" and move to a better location, mostly because (I am told) Creative Partners no longer wants to host the show. But it will probably be to one of Bethesda's top galleries (that leaves 2-3 choices).

But O'Sullivan's article says also something about the difference between the way Baltimore museums looks at Baltimore artists and events and the way the DC area museums do.

Bethesda doesn't have a museum. So the Trawick will just move to another gallery.

But DC has more museum space per person than any other city in the world. That is a mathematical fact.

And yet, while Baltimore's main museum is part of that area's main art prize, no DC area art museum is involved in exhibiting the Trawick Prize exhibition.

Let this be a call for the Hirshhorn or the Corcoran or the Phillips to work out a deal with the Trawick Prize to host the finalists of the DC area's main art prize in one of those museum's galleries.

If Baltimore can do it, so can DC. And I am also making a call to my fellow DC area art bloggers and writers to join me in this call - let's see if we can make something like this happen.

If you think that this is a bad idea, then ignore it; otherwise, please join me in calling for a museum venue for next year's Trawick Prize.

Audio files of the radio discussions

Unfortunately the online segment starts about 15 minutes into the show, but you can listen to the rest of today's highly animated Kojo Nnamdi show with Jeffry Cudlin, Dr. Claudia Rousseau and myself here.

It starts with us arguing about the Bethesda Painting Awards.

I think that this was the best show so far and I also think that Jeffry, Claudia and I make up a great radio argumentative team! Now all we need is a sponsor to talk to WAMU about sponsoring an "Art Talk" show once a month or so.

Call me

click here to hear Kojo

Around one o'clock today I'll be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show discussing the Greater Washington area visual arts and artists and art stories as I usually do once or twice a year. Tune in to WAMU 88.5 FM around one. I'll be there together with my good friends Jeffry Cudlin from the Washington City Paper and Dr. Claudia Rousseau from the Gazette newspapers.

You can call us during the show at (800) 433-8850 or you can email us questions to