On November 17, Rodel Tapaya of the Philippines was announced the Grand Prize winner of the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize 2011, worth SGD 45,000 (USD 34,318) at the Singapore Art Museum.
The triennial APB Foundation Signature Art Prize aims to find the best individual work of art created throughout 24 countries in the Asia-Pacific region during the last three years. The 15 shortlisted works, on view at the Singapore Art Museum until March 4, 2012, were judged by a panel comprising Ranjit Hoskote, the curator of the India Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale; Gregor Muir, Executive Director of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts; Fumio Nanjo, director of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum; Tan Boon Hui, Director of the Singapore Art Museum; and independent Indonesian curator Hendro Wiyanto.
Though it was rumored the Grand Prize might go to a monumental work, Tapaya’s painting appeared to be an unexpected choice. At three meters high and six meters long, Bastion ni Kabunian, Bilang Pero di Mabilang (Cane of Kabunian, numbered but cannot be counted) (2010) depicts various indigenous Filipino creation myths on one canvas. At the awards ceremony Tapaya remarked to ArtAsiaPacific, “I think choosing the subject of folklore was avant-garde. It’s new.” The jury’s statement echoed such sentiment, praising the artist for being “audacious in his use of the Philippine mural tradition as well as Latin American magic realism and Bosch-like phantasmagoria.”
On the other hand, the three Juror’s Choice Awards went to more overtly topical works, including two in non-traditional media. New Delhi-based Sheba Chhachhi’s site-specific installation The Water Diviner (2008), originally made for the New Delhi Public Library, raises awareness of India’s polluted Yamuna River and conservation issues. Makoto Aida’s three-meter-tall painting Mountain of Ash (2009-10) seems to be a traditional mountain landscape, yet actually depicts a mound of thousands of dead, suited Japanese salarymen—a biting critique of self-effacing corporate culture. Melbourne-based Daniel Crooks’ video work Static No. 12 (2010), uses specially developed video software to stretch and abstract a slow-motion clip of a man practicing tai chi, produced when the artist was in Shanghai.
The much-anticipated People’s Choice Award worth SGD 10,000 (USD 7,628), for which 4,300 people voted online and in the museum, went to local artist Michael Lee, for his “Second Hand City” series (2010) which utilizes 3D modeling software to design “failed” buildings that are given social characteristics, sometimes based on cinema or media personalities. In an amusing acceptance speech, Lee remarked, “This feels good, thank you. I kind of knew it. I worked hard for it—both the vote and the rallying of votes.”
Most awards will attract some sort of criticism. The APB Foundation Signature Art Prize is distinct for focusing on a single artwork, rather than an artist’s overall practice. Moreover, while the jury prizes and people’s choice award may be intended to balance the award structure, it remains unclear how judges, or those who nominate works—many of whom have commercial interests in the art world—agree on a criteria for choosing what represents the “best” artwork, across such a range of media.