Our first ever visual arts award is presented
Sir David Chipperfield receives prize from Simon Tait
It has taken three years to get here, but on Friday, September 16, we presented the first Visual Arts and Architecture award to Sir David Chipperfield. It has been more difficult than any of us thought, but we stuck together and stuck to the task, and we had a great event at the Mall Galleries on a wonderfully sunny evening.
The difficulties in getting sponsorship meant that we had to revise our plans constantly, but we were extremely fortunate to have had Emmanual Cooper in our number, who fond a fine artists to make our trophy, if that is what it is, at a an extremely generous (to us) cost. His name is Liam Reeves and I can’t recommend him too highly.
Another member, Laura Gascoigne, found the venue, the Federation of British Artists boardroom overlooking the St James’s Park, and kit was quite late in the day that we turned to the Mall Galleries themselves to sponsor the event. Lewis McNaught, the chief executive there, and his staff handled the whole event magnificently.
But the question was asked, and legitimately, as to why we should want our own award, when we have managed perfectly without one for almost a century. The first reason was that the visual arts group is in revival mode. After valiant attempts to kick-start the group, pressure of his own work forced my predecessor, Nick Usherwood, to stand down. It seemed to us that we needed something to draw members together, and an award might be it.
Another reason was that we feel it is important that critics are seen to support collectively excellence in the art they write about as individuals. The Drama, Dance and Film awards are carved into the calendars of their artforms, as will the new Music Award, but each discipline, of course, requires a different approach. Of all of us, visual arts critics are the ones that most work alone, and while single reviews might be supportive a piece of work or an exhibition, there is seldom a perceptible collective voice. We are going to institute some more ways of expressing ourselves collectively as critics later, but this one I hope will, too, stick in the public conscious as something to look for each year.
There was an enthusiastic participation in the selection process, an alternative vote system, and the result was a surprise, not so much who it was that won as how clear the choice was. As it happened, we had it a couple of days before the opening of Turner Contemporary, the first of two of David’s galleries to open in England this year, and several of us were on the press trip and we able to tell him.
The event was well attended, given that we stuck with a Friday by David’s diary, and it was good to see chairs from other section, and our president and secretary, as well as our own VA&A members and representatives of other arts institutions. David and his wife Evelyn came and stayed all evening. He gave an excellent off-the-cuff speech: “It is particularly gratifying to get an award from the critics,” he said. “Usually journalists only seem interested in architectural projects when there are problems, but this is a great honour and I’m delighted to receive it.” – Simon Tait.