The 2007 Art Newspaper/AXA Art prize for the best exhibition catalogue published in the UK and Eire has been won by Xanto: Pottery Painter, Poet, Man of the Italian Renaissance by John Mallet, the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Wallace Collection, London. It was chosen for its sheer intellectual ambition, elegantly expressed, in putting Italian Renaissance pottery with the related poetry of the time. It vividly communicates the aesthetics, thought, and habits of the Renaissance through the scholarly study of one man and his art.
The second prize was awarded to The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China by Simon Groom, Xu Zhen and Karen Smith. for the exhibition held at Tate Liverpool. This is a courageous publication that takes on art still in a very fluid situation, where speculation is rife, prices are rising with every auction season, but there is a lack of serious art criticism, publications or public reference collections. The catalogue acknowledges the problems and cross-cultural issues, avoids hyperbole and concentrates on getting the artists themselves to explain their work. The writing is clear and brief, which is not always the case with contemporary art catalogues.
Prizes were awarded to three more works. Encounters: Travel and Money in the Byzantine World by Eurydice S. Georganteli and Barrie Cook, published by the British Museum and Barber Institute, Birmingham, was admired for encompassing so much in such a small format. It is the product of profound numismatic scholarship, used to recount history in a lively way through the evidence of coinage. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: the Poem and its Illustrations by Robert Woof, Stephen Hebron, Seamus Perry, published by the Wordsworth Trust, has excellent essays and entries on the various editions of this poem, and lives up to the exceptionally high design and printing standards established by this small museum in the Lake District. Finally, Home and Garden: Paintings and Drawings of English, Middle Class, Urban Spaces 1914-2006 edited by David Dewing, published by the Geffrye Museum, London, appealed to the judges because this unpretentious book, with its well informed narratives about each painting, is in the tradition of studies of historic interiors, with the difference that the catalogue entries are by people who have personal experience of living like the people in the paintings, and often actually knew them.
The Art Newspaper/AXA Art exhibition award was set up in 2002 to compensate for the anomaly that, while exhibition catalogues are one of the most important parts of the art-book publishing industry, they are also the most neglected. They rarely get reviewed in the newspapers or literary journals even though they are often where the newest research and ideas get aired. They also reach a wider public than most ordinary art books. The Art Newspaper and AXA Art therefore felt that merit should be rewarded, and that over a few years the prize might even encourage good practice. In the past five years the prize has become recognised as a major publishing award.
The first prize is a cheque for £5,000 to the institution originating the exhibition and there are five other prizes, of advertising space in The Art Newspaper.
The judges this year were: Louisa Buck, this newspaper's contemporary art correspondent; James Lindow of AXA Art; Neil MacGregor, director, the British Museum; John Spurling, playwright; Grey Gowrie, former Minister for the Arts and chairman of Sotheby's and then the Arts Council; Simon Jervis, former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and then of Historic Buildings, National Trust, and Anna Somers Cocks, Group Editorial Director of The Art Newspaper.
By Anna Somers Cocks