There's hardly a professional artist alive today that, at some time or other in his or her career, hasn't done the juried art competition thing. Usually it means putting together a small group of three or four slides, labeling them just so, then mailing them off with a sometimes sizable entry fee to some faraway place, usually to get them all back a few weeks or months later with little more to show for his or her efforts but a big, red "R" in the corner of the application. Even hack writers get more respect. Publishers at least send them a standard rejection notice, "We're sorry, but your work does not fit our publishing needs at this time." But, it's been that way for something like 200 years since the first Paris Salon around 1800. London's Royal Academy had its version of the Ecole des Beaux-arts Salon, and in this country, in 1896 we, in this country, added our own. One might naturally expect such a show to have been in wealthy New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, the cradle of American art. But instead, it came from the heartland, a NEW cradle of wealth, and therefore art--Pittsburgh.
With the founding of the Carnegie Institute came the Carnegie Art Museum, and with that, the Carnegie International, though it was not called that until much later. From the beginning, however, the exhibit had as its goal, the pulling together of art and artists from all over the world, in effect, comparing their work to the homegrown variety. The first exhibition was a painters show, having as it's jurors such names as Thomas Eakins, Robert Henri, Pierre Bonnard, and Winslow Homer. Expatriate, James McNeill Whistler, was hot that year. By 1922, sculpture was also included, well, really only ONE sculptor, Auguste Rodin. In effect, the show has become an opportunity for the Carnegie Museum to acquire the work of world-class artists at sometimes bargain-basement prices; before they became art icons and could name their own prices. In such a manner, the museum's permanent collection has grown to include the work of, Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam, James Ensor, Willem de Kooning, Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, George Rouault, John Singer Sargent and Pittsburgh's own, Andy Warhol.
From the beginning, the critics have given one award, and the public an audience choice prize. Even up through the 1930s, the audience choice award often went to a safe, solemn seascape, while the critics chose something more radical, usually an abstraction of some sort. The gulf between the two has always been there but as the 50's and 60's progressed, it grew wider. The show became a biennial affair, and then triennial as expenses increased and the selection process became more focused on the cutting edge. Thus, even from the beginning, works and winners exhibited have often been controversial, sometimes to the point of public outrage. The 53rd Carnegie International is no exception. It opened last month with 41 entries from around the world, chosen by a curator, Madeline Grynsztejn, not from submitted slides, but by jetsetting around the world to various other cutting-edge exhibitions and actually meeting their artists. Don't expect to see household names in the list of artists, well, except for one, our British friend the dung artist. Other than that, I've never heard of ANY of them, even the Americans, which number 14 out of the 41. But I suppose that was largely the case in the past, too. Past winners have included rather tame works by such names as Andre Derain, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. The 1999 winner of the $10,000 top prize is South African, William Kentridge, not for a painting, but for a work entitled "Stereoscope," a laborious, animated film involving the production of several charcoal drawings by the addition and erasure of lines, through which the artist draws metaphoric parallels to deliberate acts of effacement and remembrance which have characterized South Africa's post-apartheid state. What? No seascapes this year?