I dream that one day, Boston-artist ghetto shows like this will be unnecessary because local artists will be fully incorporated into local institutions' regular programming. But since the previous Foster Prize show, two years ago, the ICA has exhibited just one artist active here: Krzysztof Wodiczko. Until the day when the Foster Prize isn't basically the only time the ICA features locals, Boston art needs this show.
Meanwhile, the Museum of Fine Arts has not awarded its $5000 annual Maud Morgan Purchase Prize and exhibit for underappreciated local women artists since 2006. The MFA says that the prize "was permanently endowed through fundraising by friends of the esteemed artist in 1997." So what's the problem? Edward Saywell, chair of the MFA's department of contemporary art and MFA programs, says, through an MFA spokesperson, "There is active discussion about the prize, but it won't be awarded this year." Last October, the MFA told me, "The prize is currently being evaluated in an effort to make its impact as substantive as possible for future recipients. We expect to continue the award tradition in 2010."
No prize for four years means four local artists who didn't get an MFA show — not to mention the $20,000 the MFA is sitting on. If the MFA isn't interested in giving out the money, I'd be happy to take over administration of the grant. In the meantime, send polite reminders to MFA director Malcolm Rogers, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston MA 02115. Or email him at email@example.com. Also, during the New England Art Awards, which I organize each winter, I aim to launch a new people's-choice award, the Maud Morgan Prize for Local Museums That Overlook Local Women Artists. I'm now accepting nominations.
Art stars don't arise through unbiased meritocracy. They're incubated by museums and galleries, awards and publications. Boston's art officialdom toddles after the New York art world like an annoying copycat kid brother, but the cool trick our people haven't aped is the Big Apple's unabashed hyping of its best locals, its assumption that they could kick ass anywhere. Who calls New York provincial for all its retrospectives and round-ups of Greater New York talent?
The Foster Prize's real problem is vision. The ICA folks act as if the prize were a finishing school that they run as a charity for local schlubs they're embarrassed to be seen with. Listen for the maternalistic tone when ICA director Jill Medvedow says that the show offers local artists "experiences that they might not have had before, which is getting to work with museum curators." If the show is meant as a launching pad, the ICA might want to examine why for many past winners it has seemed more of a dead end.
Unfortunately, this I'm-better-than-Boston attitude is the official stance of too many of our curators and newspaper critics. The result has done little to improve Boston art. And, really, art made here isn't so pathetic that it deserves such treatment — especially in light of this spring's Whitney Biennial "debacle" (according to Globe critic Sebastian Smee).