Canvas Issue #95: Feature - 'The Future is Bright - Winner Takes All?' By Jo Lawson-Tancred

Published 21 December 2020 in Press

Canvas - Art and Culture from Middle East and Arab World

'The Future is Bright - Winner Takes All?'

By Jo Lawson-Tancred

Canvas - Art and Culture from Middle East and Arab World

Issue #95: Feature


For the last year, emerging artists have been hit particularly hard, with cancellations of graduate shows, fewer galleries taking chances and lockdowns halting arts events everywhere. The Future is Bright looks at the light at the end of the tunnel and at the young names breaking onto the scene. We speak to gallerists and curators to understand how best to support nascent art scenes, as well as at the impact that creative spaces, grants and art prizes have on developing careers.


With big cash rewards and promises of sell-out shows, it’s no surprise that art prizes are eagerly sought after by artists looking for their big break. But beyond the ritzy glamour and media hype, what do these awards actually mean for an emerging artist’s career?

Racing to install his solo booth for the opening of Frieze London in 2018, artist Wong Ping felt a tap on his shoulder. “I turned around to see a camera and a crowd of people who I didn’t know,” says Wong. He had just been named the inaugural winner of the Camden Art Centre’s Emerging Artist Prize, which offers a solo exhibition at the gallery the following year. “It was a surprise. I was sweating a lot and hadn’t expected to be interviewed so suddenly.” All exhibitors at Frieze’s Focus section, dedicated to galleries of 12 years or younger, are entered automatically but, says Wong, “my gallery never told me!”

Wong, who is based in Hong Kong, sees many of his peers struggle to progress in their careers. “There aren’t many invitations for young artists from institutions, and it’s not something you can apply for.” Martin Clark, who has directed Camden since 2017, hoped to award “an artist we weren’t already aware of, and who we wouldn’t normally programme.” He says of Wong’s eccentric video practice, “It’s quite challenging and doesn’t necessarily look like it would translate easily into an institutional context, but we took a chance with someone who excited us. The response was incredible, and highlights the need to protect spaces and opportunities for emerging artists.”