The Apollo Awards always cover a wide swathe of cultural—and geographical—territory and this year was no exception. Last night (21 November) against a backdrop of classic Modern British portraits in Bonhams’ Bond Street HQ, and with the Apollo editor Thomas Marks a very able MC, the award recipients ranged from the widely acclaimed Raphael: the Drawings at the Ashmolean in Oxford, which scooped the exhibition of the year, to the free art-identifying app Smartify as this year’s best digital innovation.
With endearing self deprecation, the Ashmolean director Alexander Sturgis—who accepted the award on behalf of his curatorial staff who were all away at a Raphael conference in Vienna—confessed to some embarrassment as he paid tribute to the “strength of conviction” of the exhibition’s curator Catherine Whistler, for holding firm against his suggestions to include either paintings or reproductions of paintings, which with hindsight he now realised“almost ruined the exhibition”.
In the artist of the year category there was more humility from the Turner Prize nominee Lubaina Himid who won out against a formidable lineup of Jasper Johns, David Hockney and Frank Bowling as well as Carolee Schneemann and Adrian Villar Rojas. Himid disarmingly revealed that this was the first time she had ever won an award as an artist— and declared that artists “are not some special genius creators from another cosmic sphere…treat us kindly …we feel things deeply.” (Perhaps in the week after next, when the Turner Prize winner is announced, she might use the Apollo’s magnum of Pol Roger to toast a second win…)
Last year Sir Nicholas Serota was declared the personality of the year, this time it was the turn of the collector and inimitable contemporary art patron Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, who Marks praised for transforming the “genteel post industrial city [of Turin] into one of the European capitals of contemporary art”. Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, who is currently celebrating 25 years since starting her contemporary art collection, is in the process of growing her hugely influential foundation in Turin with a new David Adjaye-designed branch in a former slaughterhouse in Madrid.
The Musee d’arts de Nantes was acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum opening and Aileen Ribeiro’s Clothing Art: the Visual Culture of Fashion was awarded best book. The best acquisition was deemed to be the Van Otterloo and Weatherbie gift of 113 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings—along with a library of more than 20,000 books—to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. All in all, an encouraging sign that even in this uncertain global climate, when so much culture seems under threat, there is still a great deal to be celebrated.