Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

The man who will decide the winner of NZ's richest art prize

Four finalists chasing Walters Prize will find out their fates tonight.
Doryun Chong, deputy director and chief curator at M+ in Honk Kong, is the international judge for this year's Walters Prize.
Doryun Chong, deputy director and chief curator at M+ in Honk Kong, is the international judge for this year's Walters Prize.

The man who will decide the winner of New Zealand's richest contemporary art prize says deciding the victor is a tough task.

When Doryun Chong spoke with the NZ Herald yesterday morning - just 34 hours before the 2016 winner was to be announced - he confessed he was yet to make a decision because the four Walters Prize finalists were all strong contenders for the biennial award.

The finalists are Joyce Campbell (Flightdream, 2015); Nathan Pohio (Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun! 2015); Lisa Reihana (in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015) and Shannon Te Ao (Two shoots that stretch far out, 2013-14).

Detail from <i>Flightdream</i>, by Joyce Campbell.
Detail from Flightdream, by Joyce Campbell.

Each has produced photo or video-based media work inspired by historical events. The winning artist receives $50,000 while each finalist gets $5000 for making the shortlist, which is determined by four New Zealand art world insiders.

An international judge is then chosen to make the final decision.

<i>Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun</i>, by Nathan Pohio.
Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun, by Nathan Pohio.

Auckland Art Gallery director Rhana Devenport says Mr Chong has an exceptional reputation internationally and, as deputy director and chief curator at Hong Kong's new M+ museum, is poised to play a pivotal role in the shaping of art in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Chong, who has twice visited New Zealand to see galleries and meet curators, arrived on Tuesday and has spent much of his time at Auckland Art Gallery in close contemplation of the finalists' works.

<i>Tai Whetuki - House of Death Redux</i>, by Lisa Reihana.
Tai Whetuki - House of Death Redux, by Lisa Reihana.

"The artists are using the 'lingua franca' of contemporary art making right now," he says. "It is very accomplished and sophisticated video-making with a strong consideration of the space they are to show in.

"But the subject matter and the issues they deal with are of New Zealand; yes, there are echoes or affirmations you will find internationally in that indigeneity, settlement, contact and conflict are dealt with but they cannot be lumped together or generalised because they have a particularity to and of New Zealand which you simply won't find elsewhere."

<Two shoots that stretch far out</i>, by Nathan Pohio.
, by Nathan Pohio.

Mr Chong, who has also worked at MoMA in New York, says he was struck by the intensity of the works, saying seen together or singularly they were will make an impact on viewers.

A 2013 change to the Walters Prize rules means artists can exhibit either their nominated artwork or a new one. While Lisa Reihana was nominated for in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015, she's presented a new work called Tai Whetuki - House of Death Redux, 2016. Joyce Campbell and Shannon Te Ao exhibit their original work as well as additional ones.

The four finalists for the 2016 Walters Prize are (from left) Nathan Pohio, Lisa Reihana, Joyce Campbell and Shannon Te Ao.
The four finalists for the 2016 Walters Prize are (from left) Nathan Pohio, Lisa Reihana, Joyce Campbell and Shannon Te Ao.

Mr Chong will announce the winning artist at the Walters Prize award dinner tonight .

- NZ Herald

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