This is the first year of the West Prize, an art prize sponsored by the West Collection, which collects the work of emerging artists. Over 3,600 artists from 18 countries applied, and a Philly artist duo is the winner. But this prize is a little different, and may represent a change in how art business is done.
This is the first year of the West Prize, an art prize sponsored by the West Collection, which collects the work of emerging artists. Over 3,600 artists from 18 countries applied, and a Philadelphia artist duo is the winner. But this prize is a little different, and may represent a change in how art business is done.
Philadelphia artist duo, the Dufala Brothers, never had a gallery show before last month. Now, thanks to winning the West Prize, Billy and Steven, both hovering near 30 years old, have $25,000 in pocket and will be showing at a prestigious art fair in Chicago. But perhaps most significantly they have been acquired to be part of the West Collection.
Dufalas: “Being in good company is always desirable. It means that the work will be out there in front of people, kind of all the time.”
“And they promote it themselves – that’s part of their mission.”
The Dufalas make large and small three-dimensional art works, like a huge ice cream truck outfitted to look like a tank, or a dumpster lined to look a coffin. While most art prizes have a cash component, few come with the prospect for exhibiting pieces like these permanently. The prize is the vision of Paige West. She acquires the work of up and coming artists with a single-minded goal of bolstering emerging artists as they set out on their paths.
West: “We were hoping to reach a new audience about the collection and then publicity for the artists in reaching a new collecting or gallery audience.”
The West Collection, where the Dufala Brothers’ art will be on permanent exhibit, still sits in Oaks, Pennsylvania. It originated there 15 years ago at the headquarters of the investment company SEI. Paige West is daughter of SEI’s founder and was an art history student at the time. It was her job to curate the collection but it didn’t take long for her to feel something was wrong.
West: “I was going into galleries, and I would ask questions about artists. It was very difficult at that time to get any information, unless the gallery knew who you were and I’ve had people say that, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ those kind of things, which I just don’t think is any way to run a business.”
The West Collection, West Prize, and a new gallery in New York that West opened, all run completely opposite to what she found as the entrenched ways of working with contemporary art. They’re open to new buyers and artists, forthcoming about prices and information. Ed Winkleman has owned and operated a contemporary art gallery in Manhattan for nearly a decade.
Winkleman: “By taking chances on younger artists who can really use the prestige of being in the West Collection to help build their careers, and to purposely seek out emerging artists, it opens doors.”
Winkleman suspects West and her co-curator, Lee Stoetzel are making shrewd decisions about artists whose work will likely appreciate in the future.
Winkleman: “Lee and Paige both have really strong eyes – they have a sense of what quality is. Obviously they know what they’re doing. They’re making really smart choices.”
West insists that money isn’t the driving motivation. After all there are no guarantees of appreciation that come from winning the prize or being acquired. And the winners of the first West Prize seem to agree. They say they have more credibility now and opportunities for collaboration. But materially, their lives haven’t much changed since winning.
Dufalas: “It’s pretty much the same. I still don’t have a home.”
“He stopped sleeping on my couch.”
“I still don’t shower very regularly. I’m still in the studio pretty much every day. It wasn’t like, this is time to kick back and not do anything. It’s probably gonna make me want to work harder.”
Indeed, the Dufala Brothers now have to figure out what works they’ll exhibit when Paige West takes their art to Chicago’s Next Art Fair in May. By simply spurring these emerging artists on, the West Prize may be working just as intended.
Learn more about the Dufala Brothers and their work at their website.
Read about Chicago’s Next 2009 art fair where the Dufalas will be exhibiting their work in May
Inquirer: Galleries | Not what’s expected: Wilson’s portraits, Dufalas’ recyclings (3/15/09)
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