Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Blog

The Grange Prize Q&A: Curator Sophie Hackett on Selecting the Shortlist

This week, we had a chance to sit down with The Grange Prize 2010 lead juror and AGO assistant curator of photography Sophie Hackett, who told us about the closed-door deliberations to determine this year’s shortlist, why the jury chose these four artists, and what we can expect from the AGO presentation of The Grange Prize Exhibition 2010.

The Grange Prize: So how did the jury choose the artists shortlisted for The Grange Prize 2010?

Sophie Hackett: Well, the process took place over two days in Chicago last March. We brought four curators together, including myself, and each of us brought forward five artists who had really made an impact in the past five years in the field of contemporary photography. The two Canadian selectors, myself and Kenneth Montague, brought forward Canadian artists, and the two American selectors, Dominic Molon and Karen Irvine, brought forward American artists. As we discussed the photographers, we paid a lot of attention to the chemistry of the shortlist. We wanted very much to put forward four artists whose work stood on a similar playing field, whose work stood up against the other artists’ work, and at the same time was distinct. I think, with this group, we really achieved that.

Did the deliberations stay convivial and friendly, or were there behind-the-scenes art brawls?

It was civilized, but there were definitely some strong feeling about the artists. I think it was actually the best possible balance that we could have had of people who know their stuff and people who really care about photography, and care about good photography. There were no knock-down, drag-out fights at all, but people were very frank. We spent probably three-quarters of the first day looking at submissions and getting familiar with all of the artists, and then the last two hours, there was a bit of a deadlock about who the final artists would be. It took some time to work that through.

What do you hope people will take with them when the see the shortlist?

Well, I hope people are intrigued. There are many things about the works that are a slow burn, that take a little while to sink in, although that’s not to say that there isn’t something that is immediately affective about all of the works. There are a number of different elements in each artist’s work that I’m hoping will pique people’s interest. Maybe they’ll want to learn more about what the artists think about, or they’ll see, for instance, that two of the artists make photographs that are really abstract, and maybe wonder why that’s happening now.

You’ve had a chance to meet all of the shortlisted artists now, and conduct interviews with them. Does developing a personal relationship with an artist shift your perception of their work?

Meeting the artists has really just further confirmed the merit of the shortlist in my mind. They’re extremely thoughtful, they’re incredibly articulate, they’re funny, they’re passionate about what they do. I am excited to know who will win and nervous at the same time, because I feel that they are all truly deserving of the prize. I’ve also met them in their homes and their studios, and it’s been fascinating to see the relationship of their practice to their daily lives. I felt like I was able to get closer to how they think about what they do, which was great.

As the curator of The Grange Prize Exhibition 2010 at the AGO, can you tell us a bit about what we’re going to see on September 22 when it opens?

The exhibition is a great opportunity to see the works in the flesh, and while you can get a good sense of the work online, I think that the visitors will be surprised when they encounter them in person, particularly by the artists’ sense of scale. Josh Brand’s works are very small and jewel-like, Kristan Horton’s photographs are very large and overwhelming in a certain way, Leslie Hewitt’s works sit on the floor, Moyra Davey’s works are pinned to the wall. There is play of scale, of materials, of modes of presentation, and by extension a great variety of contemporary photographic practice. I would encourage people visiting or living in Toronto or Chicago this fall to go and the shows at the AGO or the MoCP, because you could have a very different response in person than you would online, and that may change your vote.

Thanks for taking the time the chat, Sophie.

My pleasure.

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