You’re A Winner: Fashionable Art Prizes

What to make of The First Annual Rob Pruitt Art Awards which took place on October 29, 2009 at The Guggenheim Museum in association with White Columns and Calvin Klein Collection? Art prizes with designer names attached have been around since the 1990s, but this was the first “awards show” styled event that mimicked the celebrity-watching antics of the Academy Awards. Part performance art, part Guggenheim benefit, and part droll commentary on awards ceremonies, the event was produced by conceptual artist Rob Pruitt, who doubled as the evening’s MC. Attendance was by invitation only (likely relative to patron size and/or art world status), and the process for selecting awardees was left largely to the imagination. As Rhonda Lieberman points out in her ArtForum diary, “it was the cool lunch table of the art world celebrating itself.”

“Sponsored by Calvin Klein and featuring a bona fide––though teensy––red carpet (where Yvonne Force and Doreen Remen of the Art Production Fund fussed delightedly in front of the cameras), one felt the frisson of history in the making that people of yore must have sensed at the advent of the Golden Globes (a model for the festivities, according to presenter Matthew Higgs). Or social commentary like The Gong Show.”

MC Rob Pruitt with groupie sculptor Cynthia Plaster Caster

But the thing I loved about The Gong Show was that it featured everyday people – not handpicked socialites and art stars. Sadly, art prizes tend to be geared toward the latter, and this latest example is evidence that designer art prizes are simply corporate advertising with prom nights for the social elite. I’d personally rather watch Jamie Farr and Phyllis Diller rate two girls fellating orange popsicle sticks any night of the week.

Herewith is a short list of other big fashion-brand art prizes, and fashion-brand commissioned art works – in my opinion, a more original and productive use of marketing dollars.

Hugo Boss Prize (founded 1996)
This $100,000 bi-annual prize is co-presented with the Guggenheim Museum to “support talented young, emerging artists as well as established individuals whose public recognition may be long overdue.”

MaxMara Art Prize for Women (founded 2006)
Because we all know what positive effects the fashion industry has had on women, feminism, sexual equality, and body image, “The MaxMara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel
reflects the close relationship bonding Max Mara both with the worlds
of women and of art." May I suggest that next year’s prize goes to support Lynn Hershman Leeson’s forthcoming documentary on feminist art history, Women Art Revolution.

Chanel's Mobile Contemporary Art Container


Mobile Art: Chanel Contemporary Art Container (founded 2008)
A mobile art gallery initiated by Karl Lagerfeld and designed by Zaha Hadid to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Coco Chanel’s iconic leather handbag.

H Box


Hermes H-Box (founded 2008)
Keeping up with the Chanel’s, Hermès sponsored this mobile video art screening room designed by Didier Fiuza Faústino and recently featured at Cinema Arts Festival Houston.

also by Andrea Grover

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