UOB Painting of the Year is an ‘indignity’

From ‘UOB painting win: Calls to tweak rules’, 28 Nov 2013, article by Deepika Shetty, ST Life!

The new rules for the United Overseas Bank Painting Of The Year have kicked in, but the winning work by German- born, Singapore permanent resident Stefanie Hauger, 44, has generated talk in the arts community that the rules might need to be tightened further.

Hauger, a former interior designer who became a full-time artist two years ago, snagged the South-east Asian painting prize worth US$10,000 (S$12,500) and the Singapore award of US$25,000 for her 170 by 170cm acrylic on canvas, Space Odyssey.

…Singapore artist Aaron Gan said the fact that Space Odyssey trumped Suroso’s more nuanced and detailed painting titled Indonesian Artist’s Studio was an “indignity”.

Said Gan, 34: “I understand that artworks are judged on message, creativity, composition and technique. While Space Odyssey may score highly in message and creativity, it should accordingly score equally low points for composition. The technique is nothing to write home about. You pour paint on a canvas and turn it around. That’s it. You do not have to be trained to do it.”

It was a point picked up by Indian classical vocalist and visual arts lover Krishnapuram Venkatachar Godha. She felt Space Odyssey was “not that impressive” to win a first prize in such a prestigious competition.

“The painting reminds me of the artworks we did in school. Essentially pour some three to four poster colours, fold the paper into half and get this effect. It looks exactly like that except for the size of the painting,” said Mrs Godha, 42.

A swirl of controversy

A swirl of controversy

Hauger’s painting looks like a bird’s eye view of our blue planet from the perspective of an astronaut dropping acid in space, a psychedelic portrait of her morning coffee just after stirring with colours inverted and distorted, or what the worst oil spill ever would look like. It seems too splashy and accidental a work to be a winner in the eyes of fellow artists, professionals who come out harping every year about unworthy champions. Bai Tianyuan simply ‘copied’ a photograph, while 17 year old Esmond Loh’s victory was a slap in the face of ‘established’ artists who slog day and night to hone their craft. Both young winners weren’t even born when veteran participants were already showcasing their work.

This year, you have a 44 year old PR upstart whose work some claim can be accomplished by a kid in a blindfold during art class. I’d like to see Aaron Gan pour cans of paint on a canvas while turning it around and achieve what Hauger did with ‘Odyssey’. Or better still, rub 4 colours on your naked body and roll around on paper in a circle. If you can replicate a UOB Winner by throwing random buckets of paint on a wall, then point taken, though by the sheer element of chance, you can still create crazy, fantastic ‘art’, like a monkey typing out a couple of stanzas of poetry on a keyboard. In other words, winning the UOB Fluke of the Year.

Hauger’s swirly work represents the muddle that local art is in when it comes to recognising and rewarding true talent. Or someone was spinning the work around and got the judges hypnotised into giving it full marks. People are questioning how the categories are defined, or how skilled the winner is, but not the credibility of the judges, who are the ones selecting paintings of the year in the first place. If your judges are supposed to be able to discern the work of an amateur from an experienced hand, it doesn’t matter if your participants are a mix of wannabes, snobs or greenhorns painting for the first time trying their luck. We’ve seen how a piece of ’emerging work’ has been deemed to be no lesser in quality than an ‘established’ one, a fact proven a few times already from past shockers.

Perhaps I should start training and submit a still-life of fruit as my entry in next year’s contest under the ’emerging’ category. I could call it ‘Sour Grapes’.

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3 Responses

  1. Judging art is extremely subjective. I see stuff in shows all the time that makes me wonder why it is there. There are also various forms of bias at work. A local art non profit has a female director with a record of favoring women over men in her choices.

  2. From one of the judges”Dr Lingham lauded the painting for its “striking vitality” and added that the work, created by pouring paint on the canvas and moving the canvas in a circular motion, pushes the boundaries of painting.”

    Take note on the words: pushes the boundaries of painting.
    She probably does not even know who Jockson Pollock is!

    It is a big slap and real heart sickening to those who are trully serious in their art practice!

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