Walters Prize awarded to Luke Willis Thompson

EMPTY: Luke Willis Thompson's installation involved viewers taking a taxi from the gallery to an unknown destination.
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EMPTY: Luke Willis Thompson's installation involved viewers taking a taxi from the gallery to an unknown destination.

A Pacific Island artist’s mysterious and emotional display has won him one of the country’s toughest and most prestigious contemporary art awards. 

Aucklander Luke Willis Thompson, 26, was announced the winner of Auckland Art Gallery’s acclaimed Walters Prize tonight. 

Thompson’s winning inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam took visitors down a long corridor of gallery space and into an exchange with a gallery assistant who ushered them through a goods lift to a a waiting taxi. 

The taxi took them to a suburban house where the artists lives, complete with books and photographs. 

International judge and curator Charles Esche said Thompson’s “quite extraordinary intrusion” of art into daily life cut through the protocols of the exhibition system “like a knife”. 

The “exceptional artistic experience” would stay with him long after he left Auckland, Esche said. 

“Anticipation, uncertainty, uneasiness and privilege all play their emotional part in charging a sense of personal displacement.” 

The artistic journey lead to questions like:  “Is this being done for me?”, “Do I deserve it, or even want it?” and “How do I need to react?” Esche said. 

The judge said he was confident about the artist’s future. 

The artist won $50,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to New York with the opportunity to exhibit at Saatchi & Saatchi’s world headquarters. 

Esche said the works from all four finalists had “great presence, even in their relative absence”. 

The artists were committed to understanding the world differently and to using the platform of contemporary art to try to imagine things otherwise - “often shyly, speculatively, gently”. 

The other finalists were Simon Denny, Maddie Leach and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila. 

The biennial awards were named in honour of the late New Zealand artist Gordon Walters, and the prize was established in 2002. 

Past winners included Yvonne Todd, et al., Francis Upritchard, Peter Robinson, Dan Arps and Kate Newby.


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