These Four Artists Were Nominated for Germany’s Foremost Art Prize—and Now They’re Denouncing It

The nominees released a statement denouncing the prize's emphasis on their gender, nationalities, sponsors—and the lack of artist fees.

Jumana Manna, Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Agnieszka Polska (from left to right) © Foto: David von Becker

Only a few short weeks after Agnieszka Polska was announced as the winner of Germany’s preeminent art prize, the Preis der Nationalgalerie, the four shortlisted nominees—including Polska—have released a joint statement condemning the prize’s public relations tactics, sponsorship agenda, and lack of fees.

Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna, and Agnieszka Polska were nominated earlier this year for the award, which goes to a young Germany-based artist. It was highly publicized as the first shortlist to include only female artists, all with foreign nationalities. In a statement sent to artnet News via email, the four noted that, through prize-related speeches and press releases, their gender and nationalities were pointed out repeatedly and emphasized much more heavily than the content of their work.

Shortlist for the Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017. From left: Iman Issa, Agnieszka Polska, Sol Calero, and Jumana Manna.

“We would like to stress that commitments to diversity in gender, race, and experience need to be built into the everyday operations of institutions and organizations rather than celebrated occasionally at high-profile events,” the four wrote in their statement.

The group also describes the heavy-handed sponsorship that went along with the prize proceedings. Often, they said, the sponsors behind the prize took priority over discussion of the artists. “The award ceremony for the Preis der Nationalgalerie seemed to be more of a celebration of the sponsors and institutions than a moment to engage with the artists and their works,” the artists wrote. The prize is sponsored by luxury car manufacturer BMW, whose logo and branding were prevalent throughout the ceremony and the exhibition.

The artists also called out the prize’s failure to include a monetary award. “Artists contribute greatly to the prestige of this prize, and their labor, like all forms of labor, needs to be compensated proportionately,” they wrote. The Nationalgalerie has not offered prize money since 2011. Instead, the winner receives a solo exhibition at one of the country’s state museums and an accompanying monograph, which can offer a significant boost to the winner’s career.

In response to the public statement by the 2017 nominees, the institution told artnet News via email: “The Nationalgalerie welcomes the statement of the four nominees of the Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017. We are taking these issues seriously, and are already in contact with Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna, and Agnieszka Polska to openly discuss these fundamental aspects.”

Read the artists’ full statement below:

November 9, 2017

As the four shortlisted nominees for the Preis der Nationalgalerie, we have decided to release a joint statement concerning our experience. Our statement is a means to highlight and recommend changes to three problematic aspects of the prize, which we find indicative of broader and growing trends in the art field and therefore deserving of a public ear.

I.

The Preis der Nationalgalerie, hosted by the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, is a joint venture between the Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen and Freunde der Nationalgalerie, with BMW as its main sponsor. We take, at face value, the intention of this prize to be to support and give voice to serious artistic positions and practices based in Germany.

With this in mind, we have been troubled by the constant emphasis, in press releases and public speeches, on our gender and nationalities, rather than on the content of our work. It is clear to us that in a more egalitarian world, the fact of our gender and national origin would be barely noticed. Having it constantly emphasized can only be indicative of how far we are from such an egalitarian world. Furthermore, the self-congratulatory use of diversity as a public-relations tool risks masking the very serious systemic inequalities that continue to persist at all levels of our field.

We would like to stress that commitments to diversity in gender, race, and experience need to be built into the everyday operations of institutions and organizations rather than celebrated occasionally at high-profile events.

II.

The award ceremony for the Preis der Nationalgalerie seemed to be more of a celebration of the sponsors and institutions than a moment to engage with the artists and their works. The award was announced at the end of numerous speeches and performances, in what can only be described as a great unveiling. A solution to this would be to announce the winner prior to the ceremony and let the ceremony be a chance to celebrate and give voice to the winning artist and engage with their practice.

Some conventions, which might function in the corporate world and entertainment industries, seem out of place when applied to the field of art. The award does not need to be structured in a manner that implies a sense of competition between people who are not in fact competing. Structuring it in this manner results in the creation of obstacles to solidarity, collectivity, and mutual support among artists.

III.

We believe that all exhibitions, including the exhibitions of the shortlisted nominees, should include an artist fee. Furthermore, artist talks, panels, and public discussions should also include fees. Artists contribute greatly to the prestige of this prize, and their labor, like all forms of labor, needs to be compensated proportionately.

The fact that the Preis der Nationalgalerie does not have a monetary value, and that the exhibitions and public talks of its nominees do not include fees, means that artists are rewarded only with the promise of exposure. There is an unspoken assumption that the participants are likely to be remunerated by the market as a result of being nominated for or winning the prize. As artists, we know this is not always the case. The logic of artists working for exposure feeds directly into the normalization of the unregulated pay structures ubiquitous in the art field, as well as into the expansion of the power of the commercial sector over all aspects of the field.

Lastly, we welcome discussion on these issues from the museum, its friends and sponsors, and all relevant stakeholders, including past nominees, in the hope that together we can improve the situation for future iterations of the prize. We hope that this discussion might be useful as a model for considering other similar events in the field of art.

—Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna, and Agnieszka Polska


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