Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tony Shore wins Sondheim Prize

Baltimore painter Tony Shore, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the 2006 winner of the Bethesda Painting Awards, has won the $25,000 2007 Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize.

Shore is currently on the faculty of the Foundations Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the founding Director of Access Art, a youth art center in Baltimore's Morrell Park neighborhood. He is represented in Baltimore by the C. Grimaldis Gallery and (as far as I know) unrepresented in the DC area region.

Shore was somewhat of a surprise winner of the 2006 Bethesda Painting Awards. He paints large works on black velvet, which have been described as straddling "the fence between high-class and lowbrow."

You can see the exhibition of works by the winner and all other finalists here.

Congratulations to Tony Shore!

What a great definition, she said

During our radio talk last Thursday, someone called in and wanted a definition of what makes good art. On the fly, Washington City Paper critic Jeffry Cudlin came up with a terrific answer, and when Kojo asked Gazette newspapers critic Dr. Claudia Rousseau for her definition, she exclaimed (referencing Jeffry's) "what a great definition, I love it!"

Someone later on emailed us asking for the definition, and Jeffry graciously enough regurgitated it as best he recalled. I have posted it below... this is not a manifesto or otherwise anything but a terrific off-the-cuff answer:

1) How apt is the choice of medium?

For Clement Greenberg, art was all about specialization. He wanted work in any given medium to refer to its own method of construction and the characteristics of its component materials: Painting was about free-flowing or staining pigment in a resolutely flat pictorial space; sculpture was about volume and movement through three-dimensional space; literature was really about words, rhythm, meter.

Of course, Greenberg's brand of formalism died out in the late '60s. Now that we live in a cross-disciplinary, multi-valent art world, contemporary artists tend less and less to be specialists, winnowing out their problem set to a few spare material issues. Instead, they're typically trained as generalists who work from project to
project, idiom to idiom.

But this can't mean that the choice of medium doesn't matter. Instead, that choice becomes terribly important: Why is this object a drawing, painting, photograph, or sculpture? Why was that choice appropriate, or not appropriate? What about the history or physical properties of the medium seems uniquely bound up in the content of this work?

2) Does the artist show enough material mastery?

Economy and clarity are virtues: No artist needs to show the viewer everything they're capable of in a work, lavishing their object/project with bells, whistles and flourishes.

If I go all the way back to John Ruskin--why not?--he stated that the artist should work until the idea has been made clear, and go no further; he warned against work in which the only evident merits were "patience and sandpaper".

And, again, if we're going to accept this idea that an artist might make a photograph, or a painting, or a video, then how skilled do they need to be in each? Skilled enough to demonstrate some empathy with the materials, and to achieve an appropriate level of fit and finish--one that doesn't distract from the content
of their work, but instead enhances it.

3) How does the artist position him or herself in relation to history?

Every artist is making claims about the relation of their work to both that of their immediately present peers and to the canon. Every artist essentially chooses their grandparents, cobbling together selective (possibly arbitrary) genealogies out of the
past few centuries of artistic production.

A contemporary painting is almost always an argument--for what painting ought to be generally, and for how we should position the artist within this imagined genealogy.

The task of the critic is to determine whether or not this positioning -- an argument made by the artist, and amplified, tweaked, or otherwise refined by the curator -- is valid.

Choice of medium, material mastery, historical positioning: my big three.

Jeffry Cudlin
I'd like to open a dialogue and invite comments to the above definition. Email me and I'll post them.