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 top award in the Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts - one of the richest art prizes in the world.
The winner of the award, endowed by philanthropist Jack Wolgin, 92, and given by Temple University's Tyler School of Art, was chosen months ago along with two other finalists, but was not announced until last night.
"I'm completely honored. Thank you. . . . This is going to change my life and my practice," Trecartin, 28, said at the award ceremony at Tyler.
Born in Webster, Texas, raised in Ohio and now a resident of South Philadelphia, Trecartin works in painting and sculpture but is mostly known for his highly embellished vérité video work.
His name was winnowed from a pool of about 20 candidates. The competition did not accept unsolicited applicants; it 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 proposed an average of two names.
Those 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 adviser to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and managing director of Dorje Film, Rome.
They 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 prize's advisory board.
Glahn said the parameters for this inaugural year of the Wolgin competition ended up reflecting, about half and half, the wishes and ideas of the donor and the advisory board. The winner was to be "an emerging talent."
"Known but not too well known," he said. "It was not to be a lifetime-achievement award."
The other finalists 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 rewarding 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). 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 among 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."
Trecartin's 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 recently was 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 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 call any of the three finalists an emerging artist, since all three have exhibited widely.
"What might change is our definition of what emerging is," he said.