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Portland Art Museum to award $10,000 art prize

Program designed to promote Northwest artists

The Portland Art Museum is launching a new art prize worth $10,000 for one lucky Northwest artist.

The prize is part of an overhaul of the Oregon Biennial Exhibition and will be first awarded in June 2008. The Biennial process has been renamed the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards as it aims to promote regional identity at a national level.

Chosen industry professionals, including academics, gallery owners, collectors and critics, will each nominate three contemporary artists who deserve consideration. The award program will be open to artists in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The call is simply for visual art (which includes video, installation and multimedia), and there is no age limit. Both emerging and established artists will be considered, although a degree of professionalism and career potential are expected.

The top prize is endowed by long-time museum supporter, Arlene Schnitzer, who also endows the position of Curator of Northwest Art held by Jennifer Gately.

Gately will be assisted for the first year by James Rondeau, a contempoary art curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. As part of the process, Gately will make studio visits in the five-state area and draw up a list of finalists by December 2007.

"What excites me most about this new approach is its organic, community-oriented nature that engages with the region's great wealth of arts professionals," Gately said.

The number of artists invited to the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards exhibition will vary "depending on the quality and scale of work," she said. All finalists will have several works on display and will receive a stipend and inclusion in the catalog.

Gately compared it to the Betty Bowen award in Seattle and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art award, which has launched local artists to national prominence.

The Portland Art Museum's Chief Curator Bruce Guenther said that people outside the region are curious about life in the Northwest and naturally want to know about the art that is being made here.

PAM's new director Brian Ferriso warned of the "Starbucksization of the museum world, where we all show the same work and bring back our prizes from the (international art fairs). However, the new biennial model will "let artists from the region becomepart of the world conversation."

He said the expansion of the museum had dominated life there in recent years and now it was time to step back and catch its breath. With the expansion of the Portland art scene, the museum is hoping to support and exhibit both promising and under-recognized professional artists of the region. "The focus will be on quality as we ask ourselves, 'Is that the best art we can show?'"