The Walters Prize was established and launched in 2001 and first presented in June 2002 as an initiative of founding benefactors and principal donors Erika and Robin Congreve and Dame Jenny Gibbs, working in partnership with the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The founding partners, each of them Patrons of the Gallery since the group’s inception in 1987, hoped that the conduct of the prize would enable the significance and meaning of contemporary art in New Zealand to become better known. They share a belief that if contemporary art was more accessible to a growing and culturally diverse community, then that community might better understand the work of contemporary artists.
Through the Walters Prize, the founding partners will endeavour to work with others to make contemporary art a more widely recognised, debated and prominent feature of New Zealand cultural life. Those other partners include, from 2001, founding principal sponsor Ernst & Young and founding sponsor Saatchi & Saatchi. From 2003 Dayle Mace, chair of the Patrons of the Gallery, joined with them to become a major donor. As organising gallery, the Auckland Art Gallery will work with its current and future project partners to position the Walters Prize as a biennial project of national importance, establishing it over time as a major public event in New Zealand’s cultural calendar.
The key elements of the Walters Prize are the prize exhibition, publication, public and education programmes, and the award dinner. A four-person national jury, selected by the Gallery but remaining anonymous until the day of shortlisting, nominate four works or bodies of work of New Zealand contemporary art. Following the jury shortlisting, the Gallery invites the four artists so nominated to install or reinstate their work or works in the Auckland Art Gallery for an 8-12 week exhibition. About 7-8 weeks into the exhibition, a visiting international judge selects one of the works as the winner of the Walters Prize.
The Walters Prize award is NZ$50,000 net cash payable to the artist selected by the prize judge (note, this sum is not taxable). This cash award component of the prize relies on the generosity of a biennial grant from founding benefactors and principal donors Erika and Robin Congreve and Dame Jenny Gibbs. In addition, from 2003, major donor Dayle Mace has generously provided a biennial grant of NZ$5,000 cash payable to each of the four (4) artists shortlisted for the Walters Prize (note, this sum is also not taxable). This contribution recognises the achievement, considered significant in its own right, of being shortlisted.
Further, Saatchi & Saatchi will invite the winning artist to travel to New York and exhibit their work in Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide’s corporate headquarters. This includes a business class airfare for the artist, Auckland / New York / Auckland, 10 days accommodation, and a daily per diem allowance at the prevailing corporate rate. This invitation remains valid for 18 months from the date of the prize announcement, when it will lapse. Saatchi & Saatchi have several spaces (of different sizes) in their Hudson Street headquarters, which may be suitable for the display or installation of the work or works that represented the successful artist in the prize. Alternatively, the artist may choose to show other works, as agreed between the artist and the sponsor.
The New York exhibition component of the prize does not automatically include a direct contribution to return freight and insurance cost. However, Saatchi’s are willing to discuss meeting these costs with the artist – either all or in part – dependant on the scale, complexity and installation requirements of their work. If an exhibition proves feasible, Saatchi & Saatchi New York will host an opening event for the exhibition and, by mutual agreement with the artist, will endeavour to create opportunities for the artist to interact informally with its staff and the contemporary visual arts community in New York.
In summary, shortlisted artist’s are presented with NZ$5,000 each at the Walters Prize exhibition opening, with the prize award of NZ$50,000 being presented to the winning artist at the prize dinner. Note that these sums are additional to the NZ$1,000 exhibition participation fee (see Appendix VI) paid to shortlisted artists.
The partners in the project intend that the aspirations of the Walters Prize will become – and long remain – a lively and engaging catalyst for a national and international conversation around contemporary art and artists in New Zealand. With the Gallery, they want the prize to stimulate public discussion about contemporary art and its role in and relationship to the wider world. They also intend that the prize should be an on-going project presented biennially.
To achieve that goal the partners acknowledge that the organising gallery will, in addition to its own direct funding and staff contribution, need to work with others. The Gallery will endeavour to enlist a national television media partner to provide news, current affairs and arts coverage of the works, ideas, artists and events associated with the prize. This will allow the prize project – and the works of art and artists at its core – to speak to a public within and beyond the gallery’s walls.
The organising gallery will also seek support from other funding, trust body and corporate sponsor partners to help it realise its goals for the prize project and to ensure its long-term sustainability. To assist it in this endeavour, the Gallery will work closely with the founding benefactors and principal and major donors, and founding principal sponsor and founding sponsor, to develop and enlarge the support base, financial and non-financial, for the Walters Prize.
The Walters Prize seeks to determine and publicly acknowledge the most outstanding contribution made to contemporary art in New Zealand in the two-year period preceding its award, the so-called prize years. For these purposes, contemporary art in New Zealand includes an individual work or body of work predominantly created within New Zealand or in the context of the artist’s connection to or experience of New Zealand. The work must have been publicly exhibited for the first time during the prize years (i.e. from last jury meeting to current jury meeting), in either New Zealand or elsewhere in the world and have been seen by the jury member who nominates the work.
In this respect, the prize takes no regard of the artist’s actual or perceived identification as a New Zealand artist, whether they self-identify or are recognised as such. Moreover, an artist’s potential for inclusion in the prize should be determined without reference to their ethnicity, country of origin or current nationality. Regardless of the nominated artist’s background or experience, the prize endeavours to focus on the achievement of artistic excellence, demonstrated within a relevant work or body of work, as this is seen to impact on or exert influence over contemporary art in New Zealand.
While the prize jury will inevitably consider the artist’s reputation or professional standing when developing their shortlist, it is not the intention of the Walters Prize to honour career achievement. Artists whose work is shortlisted for inclusion in the prize exhibition might be considered to be young or emerging or mid or late career. No age limit is placed on those considered eligible for the prize. In placing emphasis on the most outstanding contribution made to recent practice within contemporary art in New Zealand, the prize does not set out in broad terms to recognise lifetime achievement, whether attained in New Zealand or elsewhere.
The Walters Prize seeks to acknowledge an artist whose work is outstanding in relative terms, in that it conspicuously contributes to enhancing the practice, understanding or reception of contemporary art in New Zealand. This includes work that either has demonstrably made or will potentially make that contribution, by having exerted a remarkable impact or influence on the nature, perception or development of contemporary art in this country. The prize partners recognise that, in the nature of such judgements, these determinations remain matters of informed opinion.
There are no limitations placed on the media or contemporary visual artforms that may be considered for shortlisting for the prize exhibition and, therefore, eligibility for the prize itself. Nonetheless, the work or body of work shortlisted by the prize jury must be physically or – in the case of electronic or web-based work – virtually capable of public exhibition.
Work included under the scope of the prize could include, but is not limited to, any of the following media or visual artforms in potentially any combination of elements or materials: painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, installation, ceramic, glass, sound, video, film, electronic, digital or World Wide Web internet-based work.
In broad terms, the prize encompasses autonomous works of contemporary visual art that are conceived or intended to be experienced and understood as such, regardless of the material of production or identified artform. In this respect, work shortlisted for inclusion in the exhibition should be of a kind broadly consistent with the Gallery's current contemporary art collection policy.
The Walters Prize includes a biennial exhibition presented at the Auckland Art Gallery. The prize jury is required to agree on four (4) shortlisted artists for inclusion in the prize exhibition. Further, the jury will also nominate two (2) reserve works, in the event one or more of the four shortlisted artists or works is unable or unprepared to participate in the prize. The prize exhibition will either fully comprise or otherwise be representative of the work or body of work that, in the opinion of the jury, merits consideration for the prize. The exhibition is approximately 8-12 weeks in duration, typically between September to November. The exhibition's scheduling may vary from time to time, where this assists the organising gallery to more effectively position the prize in its exhibition programme.
The co-ordinating curator assigned to manage the prize is responsible for negotiating the allocation of exhibition space to each shortlisted artist. Dependent on the nature and scale of works, the first level galleries of the New Gallery building currently serve as the principal exhibition venue. However, the organising gallery reserves the right to make alternative spaces available for the purposes of the exhibition, either within the New Gallery or main Gallery buildings or at alternative Auckland venues or sites.
Prior to confirmation of the shortlisted works and advising the nominated artists of their selection, the Gallery will undertake a feasibility test of the nominated works. The test will be completed within two weeks of the jury meeting and will consider scale, cost of presentation, freight, availability for loan, etc. Should the presentation of the actual work nominated be impossible to realise due to scale, cost of presentation, freight, unavailability for loan etc, or its representation through documentation be deemed not to effectively represent the work, then the Gallery will contact the jury to make a further nomination from their reserve list.
For the sake of clarity, if the shortlisted work is unavailable for inclusion in the exhibition then the artist may ultimately choose to represent it through preparatory or associated works, or video, photographic or electronic forms of documentation. If required, the organising gallery will assist the artist to produce such documentation as part of funding their participation in the exhibition. However, it remains the strong preference of the organising gallery that the actual work or body of work that is shortlisted will be included in the exhibition for review by the prize judge.
While shortlisted works might be represented either partially or wholly through other existing or newly produced but related works, particularly given the nature or some contemporary practices, shortlisting is not intended to stimulate the production of entirely new work that may have gone unseen by the prize jury. It is important to reiterate in this context that the prize is awarded for "the most outstanding contribution made to contemporary art in New Zealand" in the prize years, as initially scoped and shortlisted by the jury.
In addition to the review of the exhibition by the prize judge, and the award of the prize based on his or her decision, the organising gallery might also conduct a People's Choice vote throughout the course of the exhibition. The People's Choice prize, if applicable, will be determined in association with the founding principal sponsor.
The Gallery, through the co-ordinating curator, will prepare a small-scale catalogue of between 20-32pp, four-colour, in association with the prize exhibition. The design and format for the catalogue will generally include the following elements: a statement from the founding benefactors and principal donors and/or other partners; a foreword by the Gallery's director; background on the judge; summary observations on the prize years and/or shortlisted artists from the jury; overview on each of the shortlisted artists written by the co-ordinating curator; shortlisted artists portraits, statements and illustrations.
The selection of artists shortlisted for representation in the biennial prize exhibition will be made by a New Zealand based group of invited experts, the prize jury. Membership of the jury will be determined and appointed, from prize to prize, at the discretion of the Gallery. The final determination of the prize award is based on the shortlisted artist’s representation in the exhibition and is made by the prize judge.
The jury will comprise no less than three (3) and no more than five (5) individuals with recognised expertise in the visual arts and/or in allied contemporary cultural arenas. Jury membership can include but is not limited to those who are senior practising artists, art critics, writers, curators, art museum directors, art historians, or those otherwise prominent in allied contemporary cultural arenas.
The Gallery is required to keep membership of the jury confidential until the announcement of the shortlist. At the same time, members of the jury are required to retain confidentiality as to their membership until that time. The purpose of maintaining confidentiality over membership of the jury is to ensure that they can more effectively undertake their role from the relative anonymity of being a regular and interested observer of contemporary art exhibitions, thereby more easily retaining their critical independence and freedom to act.
In appointing jury members, the Gallery will endeavour to provide the prize with the best possible overview of exhibition activity in the five major metropolitan centres of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin. To optimise that coverage, the Gallery will aim to include members from, at least, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and, at best, seek to encompass as many other centres and/or regional areas as is achievable within its resources. The jury is not restricted to nominating works from their designated major metropolitan centre/s and/or regional zone/s.
The jury is required to meet only once as a formally constituted group on a date to be fixed by the organising gallery, ideally some six (6) months from the opening of the prize exhibition. On meeting, they will determine their four (4) shortlisted works for inclusion in the exhibition and consideration by the judge. The jury will also nominate two (2) reserve works, in the event one or more of the four shortlisted artists is unable or unprepared to participate in the prize, or that due to scale, cost of presentation, freight, availability for loan, etc the work is unable to be included. Again, it remains the strong preference of the organising gallery that the actual work or body of work that is shortlisted will be included in the exhibition for review by the prize judge.
In shortlisting works, the jury are not required to adopt a curatorial perspective on how each will work together as an exhibition. Instead, work should be selected solely for its deservedness as a nominated work. Designing the exhibition is the role of the co-ordinating curator and the gallery designer, working in close collaboration with the shortlisted artists.
The founding benefactors and principal donors, in consultation with the Gallery, select and invite the prize judge. The judge will be an eminent national or international figure in the world of the visual arts or an allied cultural arena. He or she will be of such standing as to act to focus public, critical and media attention on their role. Those invited to be prize judge may include but are not limited to being senior practising artists, art critics, writers, curators, art museum directors, art historians and the like.
The judge will, by preference, be a person able to deliver an associated public lecture on their field of interest or expertise in the contemporary visual arts or an allied field. The decision of the judge in making the prize award will be considered final and binding. For the purposes of the inaugural prize, the judge will be invited to Auckland for a minimum 4/5-day period, at a time to be mutually agreed.
10. CO-ORDINATING CURATOR
The Gallery will appoint a co-ordinating curator at the beginning of the prize years to act as its representative in all substantive dealings between the Gallery, the prize jury and the artists nominated for inclusion in the prize exhibition. The co-ordinating curator will be available to brief the jury as necessary on the exhibition potential and constraints of the Auckland Art Gallery spaces dedicated to the prize.
Finally, when the exhibition is being assembled and its content is known, the co-ordinating curator will advise the director if, in their opinion, a nominated work or works should be excluded from the exhibition. The purpose of this advice is to protect the Gallery where the nature or content of a work or works is deemed to be in breach of the law, therefore making it an offence to exhibit it, or is otherwise considered to be in serious conflict with Gallery policy.
The co-ordinating curator will prepare an associated catalogue to the Walters Prize exhibition that will include a short essay on each artist. There will also be interpretive material in the form of wall texts and videos made available to assist the public.
A comprehensive education and public programme will be mounted by the Gallery in association with the exhibition,
A prize award dinner will immediately follow the selection of an awarded artist by the prize judge. The dinner will be scheduled on a date convenient to the Gallery, the judge and the founding benefactors and principal donors and project partners. This is most likely to occur no less than four weeks following the opening of the prize exhibition.
The award dinner is conceived as being a distinct, separately sponsored and high profile element of the prize. It will be the occasion on which the prize award is announced by the judge to an audience including the shortlisted artists, members of the jury and founding benefactors and principal donors and project partner representatives. The Patrons of the Gallery and other key organising gallery donors and stakeholders will also be invited to attend.
It is the goal of the founding partners in developing the prize that the dinner is in some part given coverage by the national television media partner enjoined to support the prize. Coverage would ideally include a live cross to the judge’s announcement of the awarded artist. Further, it is hoped it can include coverage of the highlights of the media conference scheduled to be held immediately following the announcement.