What makes a good piece of writing? What makes a good piece of art writing? It's hard to say exactly. I have spent many long, coffee-doused nights at my computer screen wishing that I had cracked the perfect formula, so that it would come easily – impeccable, repeatable – every time I sit down to start a piece.
But then, variety is part of what keeps writing – and reading – interesting. With more than 400 entries from around the world – the most we have ever received – competition for this year's Frieze Writer's Prize was tougher than ever before. Established in 2006, with the aim of encouraging young and unpublished aspiring art critics, the prize continues to stimulate a diverse range of responses to artists and venues well known, less known and sometimes almost entirely unknown. Whittling down a shortlist from this year's entries, alongside fellow judges Vivian Sky Rehberg (one of frieze's longstanding contributing editors and course director of the Master of Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam) and Ned Beauman (whose third novel, Glow, was published earlier this year), left me overwhelmed but enthused. It was refreshing to read about shows in spaces I had never before come across expressed in lively, engaged, ambitious and sometimes experimental terms. The variety of approach and subtly of thought demonstrated by many entries makes me optimistic that the practice of art writing is alive and well, and that there is a public out there thirsty for the kind of conversations, conflicts and controversies generated by the best kind of contemporary art. It is exciting to think about the role that frieze has played in stimulating and facilitating these kind of discussions over the years since its launch in 1990 and wonderful that the annual writer's prize gives us an opportunity to intervene in a very direct way in the support and development of talented art writers at the start of their careers.
Both this year's winner, Linda Taylor, an artist and writer based in Bristol, and runner up, Debra Lennard, a writer and curator based in London and currently curatorial assistant at the Hayward Gallery, tackled conceptually complex exhibitions in a way that probed the important questions without becoming bogged down in the kind of overly elaborate phraseology that the art world has become known (and, rightly, ridiculed) for in recent years. (Further reading: see erstwhile frieze associate editor Sam Thorne on jargon in last April's issue: http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/talking-shop/)
With her intelligent discussion of Robert Filby's seemingly hermetic exhibition at London project space Piper Keys, Taylor opened up an apparent dead end – a Kafka-esque hole leading nowhere – to all kinds of possible meaning. As Ned Beauman has commented: 'With nothing more to start from than a single, rather enigmatic sculpture, Linda Taylor's beautifully expressed review manages to elucidate a whole network of interesting meanings, pursuing her themes to their fullest extent but never wrenching the work out of shape to fit her purposes.'
Lennard, writing about the group show, 'Last Seen Entering the Biltmore', curated by Anna Gritz at South London Gallery, drew on the exhibition's themes of acting up and artifice to suggest something about the staged nature of relations within the art world itself. As she puts it: 'Now that we’ve arrived at the hyper self-conscious state represented by the Biltmore, finding a way out won’t be easy.'
Massive congratulations to our winner and runner up! You can read both of their entries online at http://www.frieze.com/writersprize/category/wp_2014/, where you can also find information about every competition since 2006 and read the prize-winning reviews.
Looking back, many of the winners' names are now familiar names in the reviews and features sections of the magazine. I hope that the 2014 Writer's Prize marks the start of long and fruitful collaborations between frieze and this year's winners.
Amy Sherlock, Reviews Editor, frieze