Friday, 19 June 2009

Book Review: BP Portrait Award 2009 catalogue

Title: BP Portrait Award catalogue
Author: (Publisher): National Portrait Gallery Publications (£7.99 / reduction for NPG Members)
Synopsis: A catalogue of all the portraits which are part of the exhibition for the BP Portrait Award 2009. Plus an interesting essay on portraiture by Sarah Dunant and an item about the the work undertaken by artist who won the BP Travel Award 2008
Who should buy this?:
  • People interested in portraiture
  • Artists who want to submit work to a future BP Portrait Exhibition
Who should not buy this?
  • People who are hapy viewing the small images and better background information available on the exhibition website.
  • People not interested in portraiture
  • complete catalogue of all portraits in the exhibition
  • dimensions and media/support are listed for all images
  • interesting essay by Sarah Dunant
  • good overview of Emmanouil Bitsakis's journey to north-west China to paint portraits of a Turkic minority people (but the NPG magazine did it better).
Think Again?
  • the catalogue is very small which limits the size of the images of the portraits. Those which have portraits in landscape format are particularly ill-served by this format.
  • the artist's background plus the explanation of the portrait - which are both available in the exhibition and on the website - is missing from the book.
  • the photographs in my edition flatten the images and the colours are slightly off. Rather in the same way as you get when flash has not been used well. Some of the portraits are not well represented by photographs - including the winner.
Summary: The range and approaches used by different artists may be seen to serve as an indicator of what is popular but it really only indicates what this year's jury liked. Interesting to keep as a record and to review the different approaches used. It needs to have the details of the artist and the background included - but they're missing.

There's a limited audience for this publication. People buying it are probably limited to those about to see the exhibition, those who'd like to see their work in the exhibition next year and those trying to develop their portraiture practice!

It needs to be remembered that this is a painting competition and therefore it doesn't in any way represent the full range of ways in which artists can now choose to create portraits of individuals.

The catalogue is the size of a large hand and is a good size for carrying round in an exhibition, however if we were thinking about ways to save trees my guess is a lot of people would be happy with a simpler document which they could borrow to see the exhibition and then return afterwards.

For those interested in the portraits and portraiture, it seems to pitch itself somewhere between providing too much for those visiting the exhibition and not enough for those interested in portraiture. I looked back at it following the press preview and over lunch in the National Cafe next door and I'm afraid this catalogue irritated me. Some portraits stay with you after you've left an exhibition and you end up wanting to know 'how' or 'why' - but this book doesn't answer that question. For example, it doesn't include any of the notes about the background of the artist or the reasons for painting this portrait and how they approached it which are provided next to each portrait in the exhibition and also on the website.

It's always difficult to comment on photographs in a book. There can be a number of reasons why they may not look as much like the portraits in the exhibition as they could. The photographer's technique for photographing the work, how they process their images, the paper it's printed on, the printer used, the batch I'm looking at - any or all could influence the outcome. The simple fact is that they don't all represent the portraits as well as they might do. I'm probably more conscious of this , this year as the winning portrait is one of the ones that suffers as a result. Some of the images are really flattened and some of the colours in some of the pictures are slightly 'off'. Maybe I'm being picky but to my mind the the quality of the image reproduction in a catalogue is absolutely critical to its rating.

I'm minded to suggest the NPG consults with Taschen about to this sort of exhibition catalogue in future. Taschen have a talent for publishing informative art books with good production values, excellent images and a very cheap price. That's what this should be - but it doesn't quite achieve this.

That said I do buy it every year. I just wish every year that it were a better catalogue.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...