Guggenheim Curator Katherine Brinson on Choosing the Winner of the 10th Hugo Boss Prize

An announcement tomorrow will name the tenth recipient of the Hugo Boss Prize, which with its $100,000 stipend and opportunity to plan a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, stands poised to transform the career of its winner. [An update: On Nov. 20, Paul Chan was named the winner of the 10th Hugo Boss Prize.] The nearly two-decade-long partnership between Hugo Boss and the Guggenheim Foundation was launched in 1996 with recognition of Matthew Barney’s career, just after the artist began work on his legendary film suite The Cremaster Cycle (1994–2002); Barney went on to activate the Guggenheim’s iconic, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure for the final installment of the five-part epic, which made its debut as a completed project at the museum in 2002.

Since Barney’s win, the prize has supported a number of influential careers—like those of Douglas Gordon, Pierre Huyghe, Tacita Dean, Emily Jacir, and Hans-Peter Feldmann—and launched a series of bold, often structurally innovative exhibitions, from Marjetica Potrč’s “Skeleton House” in 2001 to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s low-fi television station in 2005—and, most recently, the intricate display of personal objects that belonged to the late painter Martin Wong, meticulously installed by Danh Vo, who won the prize in 2012. As evidenced by Barney’s engagement with the Guggenheim, prize recipients also benefit from the long-term relationships that develop with these foundations. “Just recently we supported Danh Vo’s [first major] exhibition in the UK, at Nottingham Contemporary,” Dr. Hjoerdis Kettenbach, Head of Corporate Communication at Hugo Boss, told Artsy. “We realize projects and exhibitions on an international level and include the artists involved in the Hugo Boss Prize wherever possible.”

The shortlist for this year’s prize—Paul Chan, Sheela Gowda, Camille Henrot, Charline von Heyl, and Hassan Khan—comprises a group of mid-career artists, ranging in age from 36-year-old Henrot to 55-year-old Gowda, hailing from four continents and each with a profound body of work in an array of media. The winner will be chosen by a jury that includes Doryun Chong, chief curator at M+ in Hong Kong; Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator of NYC experimental performance space The Kitchen; and Polly Staple, director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery.

We spoke with Katherine Brinson, an associate curator at the Guggenheim and Hugo Boss prize judge who was instrumental in organizing the exhibitions for Vo and Feldmann, about the process of selecting—and then showcasing—the artist who will receive this year’s prize.

Artsy: As a collaboration between the Guggenheim and Hugo Boss, the prize begins with a prestigious foundation, which is enhanced further by the choice of jurors that represent different segments of the art world—different cities and continents, and a variety of institutions. How is this jury chosen?

Katherine Brinson: In addition to the two Guggenheim curators who sit on the jury for each cycle, three external jurors are selected for their critical insight into current practice and to represent the international perspective of the prize. For the 2014 award, for example, we have jurors based in Asia, the U.S., and Europe, who all have leadership roles within institutions that are at the vanguard of contemporary programming. They’re selected by the curators coordinating the prize in discussion with our chief curator and deputy director, Nancy Spector, who was instrumental in founding the award in the mid-’90s and chairs each iteration of the jury.

Artsy: While the prize itself is potentially transformative, receiving a nomination is already an important recognition of the progression of these artists’ careers. How is the shortlist pulled together from the presumably long list of artists who are nominated?

KB: Yes, we absolutely view the prize as an overarching recognition of all the nominated artists. Each of the jurors contributes five artists’ names to the long-list, and during the first meeting they’re tasked with the formidable challenge of narrowing down the resulting pool to a group of just five or six finalists. We then very deliberately allow an entire year to pass until the next jury session, when the winner is decided. Within that period we produce a catalogue that features original portfolios created by the artists and scholarly essays on their work, and allow the book to circulate in the world as an insight into each artist’s current thinking. The jurors are able to closely follow developments in the practices of the finalists and their opinions might evolve considerably in the span between the two meetings. In my experience working on the past three cycles of the prize, there’s never been a sense of a foregone conclusion going into the final meeting.

Artsy: Once the finalists have been chosen, how does the jury go about narrowing that list down again—this time to select the final recipient of the prize?

KB: The jury convenes in New York and reaches consensus on the winner over an intense day of discussion, debate, and rounds of voting. Obviously the value of art can’t be assessed using a strictly empirical methodology, so the subjective tastes of the jurors inevitably come into play. That said, there are certain criteria that the jury carefully consider. These aren’t related to an artist’s demographic—their age, nationality, or the mediums they work in—or a specific project, but rather focus on the power and originality of their overall artistic vision. Is the artist somehow shifting the parameters of artmaking? Does his or her work change the way we think about the world? And is it making an enduring impact on younger generations of artists? The decision is based solely on an informed assessment of the substance and influence of the work itself, rather than any sense of personal need or the direct effect that the prize might have on the course of the winner’s career.

Artsy: How does the process of organizing the winner’s exhibition work? What is the nature of the collaboration between the artist and the Guggenheim, and how do the parameters of the prize affect the way the exhibition is conceived and then realized?

KB: As soon as the winner is announced, we start to develop the related exhibition. This usually happens the following spring—a rather short lead-time by museum standards—in one of the museum’s Tower galleries. As with any successful exhibition project, a close dialogue between artist and curator is essential. Some artists jump at the opportunity to create a new, site-specific project, while others use it as a platform to show recent work that hasn’t yet been seen in this country. Hans-Peter Feldmann’s concept of pinning 100,000 one-dollar bills to the gallery walls was remarkable in its absolute reflexivity, collapsing the two aspects of the award received by the winner by materializing the honorarium as the exhibition. But there’s certainly no expectation that the artist’s project should comment on the prize conceptually. We leave the parameters entirely open, and have always been rewarded with reverberant installations that stand as high points in the Guggenheim’s contemporary programming.

Halley Johnson

Keep an eye on our Daily Digest to find out the winner of this year’s Hugo Boss Prize.

Final image of Hassan Khan, Banque Bannister, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel. Photo: Serkan Taycan.

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