The Hennessy sponsored portrait prize at the NGI is a welcome addition to the monetary awards now availabe to hard-pressed Irish artists. But was it wise of the NGI to open the contest to a variety of disciplines? It certainly complicated the task of the panel of judges in coming to a decision from the the 400 or so submissions. The panel was composd of Declan Long (NCAD), Donald Teskey (RHA), Cristín Leach Hughes (Sunday Times), Janet McLean (NGI), and, of course, the NGI’s director Sean Rainbird. Seven of the twelve finalists Comhghall Casey, Gavan McCullough, Cian McLoughlin, Nick Miller, Geraldine O’Neill, Helen O’Sullivan-Tyrrell, and Una Sealy normally work with oil on canvas. The others, John Beattie, Hugh O’Connor, Mandy O’Neill, Erin Quinn, and Saoirse Wall submitted photographic work including video.
Apart from the difficulty and indeed competence of five judges coming from different specialties themselves, there is also the question of the NGI getting involved with photography at all.
The NGI used to be bound by a rule which prevented it acquiring the work of any artist until fifty years after his or her death. Like Mao’s opinion that it was too early to assess the importance of the French Revolution, the Governors and Guardians of the NGI were determined not to be influenced by any passing fashion. But that restraint has wavered in recent years mainly through contemporary acquisitions for the Portrait Collection. And Sean Rainbird’s first acquisition for the gallery was a painting by William Crozier who died just three years ago.
The NGI used to be bound by a rule which prevented it acquiring the work of any artist until fifty years after his or her death
Traditionally the National Library has been the national cultural institution charged with the guardianship of photographic collections and it now has over five million photographs in its possession. The NGI would be better to leave that discipline to them but it might also change its own acquisition rules so that works by Irish artists could be purchased at an earlier date in their lives. Happily the winner of the Hennessey Portrait Prize is Nick Miller.