Cataloging the John Moores Painting Prize

16 October 2015 by Felicity

A range of John Moores Painting Prize catalogues can be seen alongside a selection of first prize winning works in room 11 at the Walker Art Gallery

A range of John Moores Painting Prize catalogues can be seen alongside a selection of first prize-winning works in room 11 at the Walker Art Gallery

We’re now getting into the final weeks of call for entries for the John Moores Painting Prize 2016. Alongside the exhibitions, the John Moores catalogues are one of the most hotly anticipated aspects of the prize. In this blog, Ann Bukantas, Head of Fine Art at National Museums Liverpool, tells us what makes them so iconic. There’s also an opportunity to win a copy of the 2014 catalogue, signed by first prize-winning artist Rose Wylie, by clicking here.

“As well as acting as a guide and souvenir for visitors, for the exhibiting artists the catalogues offer an important legacy of their presence within the exhibition. They also provide the jurors with the opportunity to share their experience of the judging process.

When the competition was established in 1957, the catalogues were much smaller, only partially illustrated, monochrome publications. The first few were thin, brochure-like booklets which listed exhibited artists and their works, but offered little else.

Only very gradually did additional information appear, such as the 1972 ‘Notes on the Prize-winners’, which presented this inventive introduction to that year’s prevailing trend of systems-based painting: ‘Using a system is like driving across a town. You decide before you set off the route you will take (determined by the rules of the one-way system) and, using the system, you drive across.’

The cover of the 2014 catalogue, showing Rose Wylie's first prize winning painting

The cover of the 2014 catalogue, showing Rose Wylie’s first prize winning painting

It wasn’t until 1985, with the 14th exhibition, that the exhibition saw its first fully illustrated catalogue, but catalogue purchasers had to wait until 1991, when Andrzej Jackowski won the first prize, to see every exhibited work illustrated in colour. 1985 was also the year in which artists’ statements and biographies became a major component of the catalogue.

The front covers are another enduring aspect of the catalogues. Those for the years 1957 to 1987 offer a journey through graphic design history, with mostly minimal, text-based covers and including nods to Mondrian (1959), colour field painting (1965) and Pop Art (1972).

Embossed lettering lends a satisfyingly tactile element to several early covers. John Moores 7, in 1969, was an especially glamorous year, with black text on a reflective silver cover that almost doubled as a mirror.

Since Lisa Milroy won in 1989 with ‘Handles’, the first prize-winning painting has adorned most of the subsequent covers. This calls for a certain level of subterfuge in order to keep the catalogue under wraps until the exhibition has formally opened and the winner announced!”

If you’d like to take a journey through the past and present of the John Moores Painting Prize, a selection of first prize-winning paintings, together with catalogues dating back to 1957, are on display at the Walker. There’s also a selection of recent catalogues still available to purchase from our online shop.


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