caption: Exhibition View. Novo Banco Foto at Museu Colecção Berardo, 2016. Mónica de Miranda. Photography David Rato. The Novo Banco Photo prize has become one of the key moments of the year in Portugal for the consecration of an artistic practice. […] The artists selected for this exhibition are: Félix Mula, Mozambique; Mónica de Miranda, Angola and Portugal and Pauliana Valente Pimentel, Portugal. Selection of each artist represents, in its own right, recognition of a prestigious career confirmed by various successes. Each of the three artists has a different positioning in relation to photography, however the thematic aspects of the works specifically produced for this award intersect with different meanings. Source: http://artresearchmap.com/exhibitions/novo-banco-photo/
Here goes a complete waste of time, for everything I’m about to say is public knowledge. Not one single person who somehow is connected to the art space ignores the rules of the game. We’re used to corruption in the art scene (people using their influence for inappropriate ends, people abusing their power, people stealing public money, etc.), but sometimes things just boil over and someone gets hurt.
The episode that brings me here takes place in Lisbon, but I’m sure it translates to most artistic contexts. So the results of one prestigious art award have come out and I can’t avoid the shock. As can be read in their website, [t]he EDP Foundation’s New Artists Award was created in 2000 and it aims to reveal new national talents in the field of visual arts. Awarded biannually, it is recognised as one of the most important awards in the Portuguese art scene and the winner is chosen by an international jury, which is different for each edition. It aims to support the continued study or creative and research work by the winning artist.
Edp is a titan, a multinational company that rules the energy sector in Portugal. As expected, its social capital is enhanced by its “social responsibility”. Edp also presents itself as a major player in the promotion of exhibitions, investing in contemporary art and acting as a patron since 2004. It has its own collection; a museum; a cultural magazine and two art awards – the Art Grand Prize and the New Artists Award, the one I’ll be referring to.
So the context is laid out. I’ll make my point in a minute.
When we hear the name New Artists Award we project an understanding of what constitutes a NEW artist. On the contest’s regulations we can read that “there is no age limit”, so new is defined by the following sentences: “new creation” and “[artists] at an early stage of their career”. After authors apply, a jury of three people selected by Edp (who will also curate the exhibition) selects a small group of “new artists” (up to 9). From that exhibition, another jury chooses the winner of the prize. The decisions of the Selection Jury are not subject to any appeal and they are also not justified to the public. After all, it’s not a public company, so no need for scrutiny, right?
Edp keeps insisting on the idea that the prize is about promoting “new values” and here’s my problem: at least one of the artists chosen for the exhibition (there are 6 this year) is definitely not a “new artist”. In no culture, language or form is Mónica de Miranda a “new artist”. She was chosen by Inês Grosso, Sara Antónia Matos and João Silvério, as were the other 5 artists. This post is not about her or her art, but she’s far from innocent. After all, she applied, so she considers herself a “new value” or she knew she had a good chance. Bellow her biography, which I think kills any discussion about her inclusion in this prize.
As in this country’s politics, there’s little public scrutiny. No one will question the jury’s decision and because de Miranda is known in the art scene, everyone will congratulate her, at the same time gossiping about this event. I question why this happened and the only logical answer that comes to mind is, again, “because there is no accountability”. No serious art critic in Portugal. Nothing. Everything goes!
So who would be responsible for this, I ask? What’s the ethical violation here?
- For once, there were more than 500 applications, so choosing to include de Miranda forecloses the chance to actually promote “a new artist”;
- It fundamentally violates the regulation of the contest;
- It accentuates the idea that the most valued quality in art is really not about the work, but about the artist and her/his capital value;
- It legitimates the idea that art is a promiscuous and elitist ground;
- And, finally, it once again questions the role of the curators.
So let’s stop and consider the suitability of this group of curators. I’m pretty sure some, if not all, have worked closely with de Miranda. That, in itself, is not an argument, but it does add to the problem.
João Silvério, one of the jurors and curators, has previously written about Mónica de Miranda’s work, praising the way she interprets the temporal relations and the memory of these experiences [living in several countries and knowing different cultures], that contribute to the construction of meta-narratives which are articulated under a line/time; as an information flow that integrates seemingly diverse places and temporalities.
Inês Grosso is curator and manager of programmes and international projects at MAAT, Edp’s museum. Grosso, as de Miranda, is interested in post-colonial issues. One of the exhibitions curated by Grosso at MAAT, was of artist Grada Kilombo‘s work. When visitng Portugal, Kilombo also visited Hangar, a project founded by de Miranda, focused on post-colonial issues. The exhibition at MAAT was a partnership between EGEAC and Edp. EGEAC is responsible for managing some of Lisbon’s key cultural spaces and it so happens that EGEAC created a network of city galleries that are ran by Sara Antónia Matos, also jury at the prize in question. Kilomba exhibited both at MAAT and at one of the municipal galleries. She gave a talk at Hangar. This is a statement to one major thing: post-colonial theory is a trend. Apparently, although the portuguese keep avoiding the issue with the colonial war, artists are on the front, communicating in a higher platform, located in a post-colonial time, with a post-colonial discourse. Everyone working in the art scene in Lisbon knows that. It says nothing about the selection of de Miranda for the EDP Foundation’s New Artists Award. In the potty that is the portuguese art scene, everyone knows everybody, so it’s only fair that they all know each other.
But de Miranda did enter one of the most prestigious prizes in 2016 – Banco Novo Photo – and that prize awards artists with prestigious careers confirmed by various successes, so what where the criteria applied here?
Again, there’s zero accountability, so what’s the problem?
Cole Porter – Anything Goes (1934) – lyrics’ excerpt
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.
When ev’ry night the set that’s smart is in-
Truding in nudist parties in