I am sure that you would love to hear the conversations that take place in the selection room, but we keep these closed and private (no tweeting!) so that selectors can be candid about their opinions. We are, after all, bringing together a group of potentially strong-minded individuals who have to quickly move from being wary of treading on each others’ toes to making a collective decision.
As outlined in previous posts we ask our selectors to choose artists whose work they find engaging and in which they find skill, criticality, experiment and rigor, but opinions will differ. Our selection panel always includes an artist and someone from the world of writing, media or broadcast as well as a curator or director and someone with experience of commissioning or acquiring work. Thus the selectors have various working relationships with artists and their opinions will be shaped by this experience.
To give you a flavor of the kind of discussions which take place between selectors, often talk will hinge around whether an artist is continually pushing their practice or if they are repeating a familiar format. Conversely the judges may question whether an artists’ work is coherent, is there a focus? Or does it jump around too much? Given that media varies so widely, along with where each artist sits on a spectrum of formal or socio-political concerns, an artists’ work may be compared to other artists who are not on the shortlist to see how their work stands up against practices of a similar type. Sometimes there is talk about whether an artist is ‘ready’ or if they still seem to be finding their feet.
A key role on the selection panel is filled by Sarah Brown (Curator of Exhibitions at Leeds Art Gallery). She explains that her role includes helping the selectors to reach a consensus:
“The Northern Art Prize panel is made up of four very well informed experts in their field carefully selected to provide different viewpoints and knowledge. My role as chair is to ensure that there is a balance of views and provide a clear channeling of opinion that means artists are not selected by default but instead are carefully considered and rigorously discussed as to why a final decision is made.”
So although Sarah does not select artists herself, she helps to make sure that each is considered fully and fairly. This role subsequently transfers to the curation of the exhibition where Sarah must ensure all four shortlisted artists are shown to their best – but more about that in a later post!