'To every other portrait my reaction was indifference.'

August 5 2011

Image of 'To every other portrait my reaction was indifference.'

Picture: BG

Brian Sewell has written a stinger of a review on the BP Portrait Award (National Portrait Gallery, London). He questions the validity of the competition, now that it is filled with 'bilge':

I am inclined to say that, like the Turner Prize, the Portrait Award is now so stale that it should be garrotted. In its early days it achieved something of what it set out to do, but now, in spite of becoming international and attracting 2,372 submissions, these 55 exhibited pictures suggest that portraiture has returned to its deathbed and is now beyond recovery. This award is no longer, as Alison Weir asserts in her superfluous introduction to the catalogue, "acknowledged to be the ultimate showcase of the talents of aspiring artists and developments in portraiture" - indeed, it never was. It is no longer "an example of outstanding arts sponsorship making a real difference..." as the director of the NPG insists - indeed it brings not credit but ridicule to its sponsors, who are deluded by the NPG and its minions into believing this to be "inspiring work (and) ... a truly exciting public exhibition". Ultimate, outstanding and inspiring? Hooey, phooey and bilge.

Though Sewell is as extreme as ever, I fear he is (at least partly) right. The standard of portraits is often poor - and getting worse.

But I don't blame the competition itself (which I love), rather, the judges. I sometimes wonder if they have they lost the ability to objectively and qualitatively assess works of art, a common problem these days. For too long the judges have rewarded insipid work of little technical merit, and seem unduly keen on portraits based entirely on photographs (such that you can even see flash bulbs reflected in the sitters' pupils). So it's no surprise to see so many photo-like works entered for the BP competition. They should be banned, and the entry bar raised. 

Interestingly, the only portrait Sewell commends in his article is by Nathan Ford, whose portrait Abi was my pick of the bunch when I went to the opening - so much so that I took the rubbish photo on my phone, above (see a better one here). It won no prizes. 

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