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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Artists and models
Arts correspondent Rosie Millard discusses art and theatre with Jerry Hall at the unveiling of the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery.

What is the difference between 10 grand and 25 grand? Apart from the obvious point of the 15,000 extra moolah, that is.

Answer: It's the difference between a Major League prize and a tiddler. Or so goes the thinking behind the inflation of the annual BP Portrait Award, which was given away this week at the National Portrait Gallery.

In these heady art days of soiled beds and crumpled up balls of paper, the BP Portrait Award is a sort of gentle, rather old fashioned art prize.

It goes to artists who firstly, paint; and secondly, who paint recognisable things, ie portraits of human beings.

However BP, the patrons of the prize have looked nervously down the road to Tate Britain and the mighty Turner Prize and determined there shall be change afoot.

So it has bumped up the prize money from 10,000 to 25,000, invited along a load of hacks to guarantee column inches the next morning, and injected serious dollops of glamour in the form of classic beauty Jerry Hall who gave the prizes away.

Jerry's monologue

Stuart Pearson Wright and Jerry Hall
A portrait of the artist with Jerry Hall
Announcing the overall winner, Stuart Pearson Wright, who triumphed with the extraordinary picture of the Six Presidents of the British Academy, La Hall revealed that she had been painted three times, each time by "very attractive artists".

Well, two of them were. Poor old Lucien Freud, who took the chance of painting Jerry eight months pregnant and in the altogether, was merely described as "attractive".

Afterwards she sat opposite me at dinner and engagingly told me she was about to appear on stage in the Vagina Monologues, an extraordinary play which is heading for a season of celebrity staging.

"Ah just lurve this play," drawled Jerry, whose voice for some reason is still much more Richmond, Virginia than Richmond, Surrey.

"Ah did it in Nashville and it went down a storm."

As it will no doubt in London. I can't wait to hear Jerry, famous mother, lover and model to get to the part of the show which describes women's naughty bits as "coochie snorters", let alone the famous moment where the entire auditorium has to shout the C word, loud and clear.

More fun

Anyway, back to the National Portrait Gallery. I am hastened upon by Chris Gibson-Smith, Director of Policies at BP.

I tell Mr Gibson-Smith that the evening at the NPG is much more fun than that annual blood-fest of the Turner ever is down at Tate Britain.

He looked rather worried. "But I want the Portrait Award to rival the Turner! That's why we bumped the money up. That's why we hired Jerry Hall!"

Then he looked at me with a rather critical face.

"That's why we have invited you! The hacks!". Ah. There's no such thing as a totally free dinner.

In the end, the Portrait Award got its due share of mentions in the press the day after, since the winner, Mr Pearson Wright did the Wright thing and slagged off Tate Britain in general and Sir Nicholas Serota, in particular.

As Brian Sewell has so successfully discovered, criticising the sainted Serota is the quickest way to make an arts issue come alive these days, and Mr Pearson Wright immediately found himself at the heart of An Arts Story by suggesting that Serota be sacked.

'Weird conceptual stuff'

Why, I asked him over a late snifter at the Groucho? (you have to do these art awards properly).

"The Tate never buys figurative art. It never exhibits figurative art," grumbled the newly wealthy painter.

What about the exhibitions coming up at Tates both Britain and Modern, I ventured. Surrealism? Lucien Freud? Andy Warhol?

"Well, Nick Serota prefers weird conceptual stuff. Not things I can look at and learn from."

Ah. So you believe that subsidised galleries should exhibit stuff purely so you can better study art.

"Not quite, its just that good art gets bought up so quickly by the private sector and goes off into houses where I can't get at it and see it."

Surely every artist's dream is to be snapped up by a rich private benefactor?

"Come on Stuart," said a friendly woman beside him. "It's time we went home."

This woman, you will be pleased to learn, was none other but the artist's mother, as proud as punch of her gifted child.

Pearson Wright mooched off clutching his cheque, presumably still scented with the heady perfume of Jerry Hall. Artists. There's no pleasing them.

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