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BOZAR, the Center of Fine Arts Brussels.

BelgianArtPrize Nominees Withdraw Following Criticism of All-Male Shortlist

The five nominees for the 2019 BelgianArtPrize have withdrawn from the contest after nearly hundreds of figures in the country’s art community signed an open letter on change.org lambasting the prize for its jury’s selection of an entirely male shortlist. Sven Augustijnen, Koenraad Dedobbeleer, Gabriel Kuri, and the duo Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys all stepped away from the competition, which the open letter signatories called out for its “flagrant exclusivity.” Rather than a concession or expression of solidarity with the signatories, the collective decision was made because the artists believed the dialogue around the prize and its chosen candidates had become reductive.

“We, the undersigned, know for a fact that none of the seven individuals in the jury are discriminatory: Sophie Lauwers, Kersten Geers, Bernard Marcelis, Michel Moortgat, Giuliana Setari Carusi, Philippe Van Cauteren and Sylvie Winckler are professional, supportive, ethical and competent individuals,” their statement to Artnet reads. The artists go on to say that the “rapid shift of public attention from artistic discourse—let alone merit—towards white male privilege is frankly something we regret.”

Others in Belgium’s art community saw the nominations as clear examples of the art world’s inequity. “A prize calling itself the Belgian Art Prize should be representative of the current society in Belgium,” Pieternel Vermoortel, an artistic director of Netwerk Aalst, told Artnet. “The structural inequality that is shown here is one that needs to be tackled if we want to break an elitist thinking about art and the power that holds it in order to bring a complex debate—hopefully as complex as the diverse society it represents.”

A statement provided to Artnet by the five nominees can be read below:

The outcry towards the all male shortlist that we are part of is now public. Many people keep adding their signatures to a declaration posted on change.org distancing themselves from the values that they claim the Belgian Art Prize stands for, as reflected in us nominees.

As a result, we have had some heartfelt and enlightening conversations that still managed to keep art somewhere at the core. Beyond the much appreciated collegiality put forward by some people, these discussions have reached a predictable limit. We have also seen how for a few others, the bag with the five of us simply leveled “straight, middle-aged, white, cosmopolitan males” is an appealing piece of collateral damage well worth expending in a war of words.

We, the undersigned, know for a fact that none of the 7 individuals in the jury are discriminatory: Sophie Lauwers, Kersten Geers, Bernard Marcelis, Michel Moortgat, Giuliana Setari Carusi, Philippe Van Cauteren and Sylvie Winckler are professional, supportive, ethical and competent individuals.

However, this short list is surely not something that we, nor anyone, should be put in a position to have to defend. We, the selected artists, were shortsighted by simply assuming that each one of us could follow on to be seen for our approach, or the content of our work. The all too rapid shift of public attention from artistic discourse or content—let alone merit—towards white male privilege is frankly something that we regret.

This leaves us nominees with no better choice but to collectively pull out of the prize in order that the question of art and merit can plausibly be rethought, restored and put back into the equation.

Far from disengaging from the questions and problems that have arisen, we are withdrawing in order that the debate can go on without having to undermine the art, and that the prize may be reassessed.

We work with significantly different approaches and there are many ways in which we differ. The feeling that, in our undeniable and necessary differences, we have been and should remain collegial and friendly, both amongst ourselves and also towards anyone reaching out, is no less clear nor crucial.

Sven Augustijnen, Koenraad Dedobbeleer, Jos de Gruyter, Gabriel Kuri and Harald Thys.

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