Ryan Trecartin Wins $150,000 Wolgin Prize

Ryan Trecartin, a young Philadelphia painter and sculptor whose psychedelic, desultory, kitschy video work has found love among critics and collectors, has been given the first $150,000 Wolgin Prize - one of the richest art prizes in the world.
The winner of the award, endowed by 92-year-old philanthropist Jack Wolgin and given by Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, was chosen months ago along with two other finalists, but was not announced until tonight.
Born in Webster, Texas, raised in Ohio and now a resident of South Philadelphia, Trecartin, 28, works in painting and sculpture, but is mostly known for his highly embellished vérité video pieces.
His name was winnowed from a pool of about 20 candidates. The competition did not accept unsolicited applicants, but was structured so that an advisory board from Tyler and across the globe solicited about a dozen nominators whose expertise they felt represented the international art scene. Each nominator put forth an average of two names.
Those names were considered by the jury, which consisted of Ingrid Schaffner, senior curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania; Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society in New York; and Paolo Colombo, art advisor to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and managing director of Dorje Film, Rome.
The trio met and simultaneously decided on the three finalists and the winner. Why name two other finalists if the winner was already chosen?
“That was part of the agreement the school had with Jack Wolgin. It was not only to have a feeling of suspense, but also so we could have an exhibition with more than one person,” said Philip Glahn, a Tyler assistant professor of critical studies and aesthetics who was a member of the Wolgin Prize advisory board.
The parameters for this inaugural year of the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts ended up reflecting, about half and half, the wishes and ideas of the donor and the advisory board, Glahn said. The criteria for choosing the winner were that he or she be “an emerging talent. Known but not too well known. It was not to be a lifetime achievement award,” he said.
The other finalists for the award were Sanford Biggers of New York and Michael Rakowitz of Chicago and New York. Their work, like Trecartin’s, has been on display at Tyler this month.
Of the fact that planners designed an international artist search that ended up awarding talent a few miles south of Temple, Glahn said:
“That to us was more or less a coincidence.”
Career buzz on Trecartin stems largely from works such as A Family Finds Entertainment (2004, see clip below). Chaotic, sometimes violent and infused with youthful rage and disgust, the video is a montage of cross-dressing characters giggling maniacally, looking into the camera and reciting obscenity-laced invective and arguing amongst themselves. Voice sounds are manipulated and layered in shouting, while images are distorted in a soup of colorful animation.
Amid the action, certain vocal lines are isolated for emphasis, some self-consciously trite, others pointedly arch or laden with tones of mock wisdom: "[unintelligible] I'll cry for you - not because I care but because I'm emotional...What you want isn't what you need, what you need is right in front of you."
His works have attracted wide attention, appearing at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Saatchi Gallery in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He was recently awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, which carries a $60,000 cash award.
The new Temple prize was endowed with a $3.7 million gift to Tyler from Jack Wolgin, who made his fortune in Philadelphia as a real estate investor.
Glahn said the competition would likely undergo refinement for its next round. It might be hard to say that any of the three finalists was an emerging artist, since all three have exhibited widely.
“What might change is our definition of what emerging is,” he said.