And the winner is – West Prize to Ryan McLennan

We tooled out to the West Collection at SEI with Cate on Friday afternoon to see the 10 finalists for the 2010 West Prize. It was the day on which the big prize would be announced, so we used the opportunity to play a guessing game on who would win. We hadn’t a clue, but that didn’t stop us from handicapping. Cate hadn’t been to the corporate campus so we got the added pleasure of a tour with Director Lee Stoetzel, who took us around to see not only the finalists but the collection as well.

Margarita Cabrera, Hummer, 2006. Photo from West Collection website

Among other things it was great to see Alex DaCorte’s huge pile of snakes and Margareta Cabrerra’s stitched fabric 1:1 scale Humvee in the “wealth” area (SEI is a financial services company) and the patchwork mutant sharks made of scrapped rubber tires by Yong Ho Ji, in an airy corporate glass cubicle.

Yong Ho Ji, Shark tank at SEI. They built the tank and installed frosted windows as part of the piece.

Also hanging in one of the big sunny atriums were Norm Paris‘ installation of Michael Jordan trying to save the world from nuclear war, Tristin Lowe’s great big slingback chair (a prop waiting for a movie), and, around the corner, the Dufala brothers’ Ice Cream Truck.  (See the artists of the West Collection here.)

Tristin Lowe, Folding deck chair, 2004

It’s always amazing to see all this crunchy art in the workplace and to hear Stoetzel’s stories about the joys and tribulations of having your art audience so close to you. This year, he said, he had several people who were so into the art that he was letting them curate their own show for a hallway near their work area!

Sharon Levy, Cookie, 2007. Faux tree trunk made of painted canvas and foam. Lee Stoetzel moving it into place in the finalist’s show.

The West Prize is in its second year of purchasing $10,000 of the work of 10 emerging artists and awarding a $25,000 cash prize to one of them. It bears mentioning that the competition was created as a response to the recession’s very big impact on the collection, which forced them to cut their art buying and limit it to an annual $125,000 budget. Still and all, what an opportunity for an emerging artist–the finalists get recognition, get collected, and get some dough. Plus their work gets seen by an engaged public–the employees of SEI.

Leah Bailis, Fence, 2007. Finalist for West Prize. Fence made of paper and cardboard.

It’s too early to tell whether this new, lower-cost approach to acquiring art for the collection will change what’s being bought.


What has changed is how Curator Paige West and Stoetzel review work. Instead of going on studio visits and seeing art in the real world they now jury from electronic submissions made to the website. We’ve all looked at jpegs and then seen a piece in the real world and had that “aha” moment when something–the size, the color, the texture–becomes clear that was not clear in the jpeg image. It’s a very different way to look at art, and we wonder if in the long run two-dimensional work will be favored over installations or large sculptures, which don’t always show well in jpegs.  Time will tell — among this year’s finalists are four artists who make sculptural installations.

We are still in a recession and the West Prize show (on view now — make an appointment with Stoetzel to see it) did look a little bit wan and tamped down. Actually, we’ve seen a lot of “wan and tamped down” of late.  That could describe the Whitney Biennial and all the art fairs we’ve been to in the last 6 months.  It’s the economy baby — the art world is depressed.

The 2010 West Prize winner

Ryan McLennan, Work Ethic, 2009. Photo from West Collection website.

The winner is Ryan McClennan, whose drawings are big, pristine and illustrational. They posit a world of endangerment where everything in nature is a mess. The pieces we saw are virtuoso drawing, but both the concept and the oceans of white space denoting the void are pretty expected in 2010, reminding us of other white-background kids like Marcel Dzama and Ben Peterson.

Ryan McLennan, another piece on view in the finalists show

Last year the $25,000 prize went to the Dufala brothers for their Ice Cream Truck — a truly wild piece of art and a risky choice for the winner, both because it conflates ice cream, childhood, capitalism and war, but also because it’s a rough-around-the-edges piece that is anything but beautiful. Prizes are awarded for many different reasons and speculation is pointless. While we were impressed that the prize couldn’t be typecast as going for only one kind of art, we thought this year’s choice was less risky than last year’s — although it sure does affirm certain threads running through the West Collection — like their interest in art about the ecological mess we call earth and their consistent love of finely-crafted and beautiful drawings.

Revital Falke, plasticine figure in finalist’s show

If they’re going to collect in depth (something the West Collection is noted for) we’d like to suggest they buy more Revital Falke. This artist is a surprise and frankly we hadn’t seen work quite like hers before in the collection.  Not only does it play with cartoons and pop culture but it has a kind of outsider’s obsessive take on things.

Revital Falke, from the “Lost” TV series

Revital’s plasticene pieces mix the utterly believable with the utterly unlikely. She took this wheelbarrow, a scenario from the TV show Lost, out on a beach somewhere and allowed people to touch the figures, Stoetzel told us, giving random people a kind of authorship of the piece. Stoetzel told us they thought that was really special and we agree.  Falke’s interest is in the everyday.  Bringing the Lost characters into the real world on the beach makes them lost — and found — without losing their Lost-ness.  We love that.

mijo yoshida

Miyo Yoshida, Books, detail, 2009, styrene, paint, vinyl, paper, dimensions variable.Revital is one of seven women in the final 10 this year. The others are NaTalica, Leah Bailis, Sarah Kabot, Sharon Levy, Julie Weitz and Miyo Yoshida. The men are David Almeida, Kevin Cyr and McLennan. This mix is an unusual state of affairs and bespeaks getting beyond mere tokenism for the ladies. While we’re working the stats, three of the artists live and work outside the U.S. (in Italy, London and Israel), two live and work in Florida, and one (Bailis) is from Philadelphia. The winner, McClennan, is from Richmond, Va.

Sarah Kabot, detail of a life-sized paper replica of an SEI workstation.

The exhibit favors trompe l’oeil–trompe l’oeil sculpture and trompe l’oeil drawings. Trompe l’oeil is a delight, in and of itself.  And the collection is strong in it.

The exhibit also favors tight and white, as in crisp, clean lines and no floppy, sloppy workmanship and blindingly blanche neige color schemes. David Almeida‘s C-prints of dime store replicas of natural objects are pristine, Audubon-like taxonomies on white backgrounds. Sarah Kabot’s white paper sculpture of an SEI Corp. work station — it could be a workstation from anywhere — is a ghost of a thing.

Leah Bailis’s iceberg of a house (l) and Adam Cvijanovic’s iceberg mural.

Leah Bailis’ suburban house fragment is iceberg-ian and situated nicely near Adam Cvijanovic’s iceberg mural. Julie Weitz‘s paintings of guys (or girls) in scary balaclavas feature voids of white space behind them — kind of like blowups of catalog items for sale at a hipster LLBean.

Anyway, congratulations to McLennan and the other 2010 winners, and keep on applying all you artists out there!  The prize will continue next year.  And congratulations to the West Collection for supporting — and continuing to support —  emerging artists.

More photos from our visit at Roberta’s flickr and Libby’s flickr.