Sep 10, 2007

Kriston Capps on the Trawick Prize Winners

FROM: Grammar.police

Last week, the Bethesda Urban Partnership announced the winners of the fifth-annual Trawick Prize. The winners include painter Jo Smail (first place: $10,000); painter/installation artist Nicholas Wisniewski (second place: $2,000); painter Bruce Wilhelm (third place: $1,000); and photographer Kathleen Shafer (young artist award: $1,000).

Shafer's just a great selection for that category—no question. And Wisniewski's work, while perhaps not as strong as some of the finalists (many of whom simply have more proven bodies of work), is easily distinguished by its political–social content; I see an argument for investing in his work, but perhaps not awarding it, at least not over the more established artists at hand.

Smail and Wilhelm, on the other hand, are disappointing selections, especially given that the set of finalists includes a few very strong contemporary artists. Smail's work contributes nothing new to the conversation in painting. Wilhelm's work holds up better: He has a Guston sense of humor, and the style is a welcome update on the glut of Marcel Dzama derivatives that have flooded drawing shows over the last few years, but the work is also very placeable along a chart of contemporary developments in this quirk/twee vein.

But winner selection, nothing doing—that list of finalists is problem enough. To my mind, there's no accounting for a final round that puts Mary Coble—arguably the most deserving artist in the contest—on par with Linda Hesh. It's hard to reconcile the (competent) members of the jury with that decision.

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