Allegro Prize is an international competition for visual artists from all over the world. There’s no entrance fee, and the game is worth the candle since the total prize pool in the competition is 50 000 PLN: 35 000 PLN (first prize), 10 000 PLN (second prize) and 5 000 PLN (third prize). The artworks submitted for the competition will be judged by a jury: Anda Rottenberg, Julian Ziółkowski, Werner Jerke, Monika Brodka, Łukasz Ronduda, Jacek Weichert, Dobromiła Błaszczyk and Sylwia Krasoń. As part of our series of interviews, we present the profile of one of the jury members – Jacek Weichert, director of the segment Books and Media, Collectibles and Art at Allegro.
Karolina Miszczak: What do you do? How did you get involved in Allegro Prize Competition?
Jacek Weichert: At Allegro, I’m part of the team responsible for the development of the category Culture and Entertainment, as well as Collectibles and Art. Our task is to make sure that Allegro is the primary online retailer of items such as books, games and artworks in Poland. We coordinate art branding projects, sales, publishing and special events, such as BookTarg, an online book fair, or the Affordable Art Fair. Allegro Prize itself is the joint initiative of Allegro and Contemporary Lynx. We developed the idea and framework of the competition together with Dobromiła Błaszczyk and Sylwia Krasoń. As a jury member, I represent the entire design team at Allegro: Mariusz Krasowiak, Karolina Miszczak, Monika Tomaszewska and Agata Stachowiak.
KM: What influenced your decision to organize this competition and support the artists?
JW: Allegro Prize Competition corresponds with the broad range of art branding initiatives which have been managed by Allegro for a couple of years. These projects include for instance Legendy Allegro, Lektury 2.0, “Starość aksolotla” – a publishing project we did with Jacek Dukaj, or our collaboration with Quebonafide. In this context, Allegro Prize is part of our strategy to increase brand awareness through its association with art. The competition allows us to discover fresh talent, offer them support with regard to promotion and finances, as well as the opportunity to present their work on a larger scale.
Another factor is related to our business activity. Since 2018, we’ve devoted considerable efforts to boosting the sale of modern and contemporary art on Allegro. Over sixty galleries, auction houses and antique shops have already joined our Collector’s Zone programme. Together, we organize art auctions on a regular basis – the total value of the auctioned pieces frequently amounts to over 400 000 PLN. Furthermore, we were the partner of this year’s online edition of the Affordable Art Fair attended by 146 galleries and individual artists. Allegro Prize reflects our ambition in this area.
KM: There’s an abundance of visual art competitions. Why is Allegro Prize any different?
JW: To begin with, our strong and diverse jury represents key components of the art market: art critics represented by Anda Rottenberg, academic staff and curators – Łukasz Ronduda, art collectors – Werner Jerke, artists – Jakub Julian Ziółkowski and Brodka. We also have the co-organizers of Allegro Prize and editors-in-chief of Contemporary Lynx, a contemporary art magazine – Dobromiła Błaszczyk and Sylwia Krasoń.
What makes Allegro Prize stand out among the rest of the competitions is also the incredible prize pool – over 50 000 PLN – and the waiver of entrance fee, which seems typical of art competitions. Jury selection is based on artists’ portfolios, so the entirety of their art practice will be taken into consideration.
The timing of our competition is also quite special. The pandemic took a heavy toll on the art market, causing the lockdown of galleries, cancellation of shows, openings, artist-in-residence programmes, auctions and fairs. Lots of artists found themselves almost in crisis.
KM: What role does the presence of artists, or visual arts as such, play in the offer and activities of Allegro? And vice versa: what role does Allegro play at the art market? What does it have to offer to the art creators, dealers and buyers?
JW: We want the customers to enjoy various options for transactions, for them to be able to purchase objects in a regular manner or bid on the desired items, not only in auction houses but also some small progressive galleries. It’s important to us to make the shopping experience as convenient as possible.
Apart from the sale tools and access to millions of users utilized by thousands of companies, Allegro offers art galleries tiny provisions from transitions. The maximum amount one can be charged in the category Collectibles and Art is 80 PLN. As part of the Collector’s Zone programme, our partners can avail themselves of the free-of-charge exposure in various sections of Allegro, promo and ad packages for a good start, free offer listings and support of an account manager. The programme can be joined via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Polish internet has a lot of untapped potential when it comes to the record auction sales despite being the place where new collectors and middle class are most likely to begin their journey with collecting. If we work together, we can expand this market significantly.
KM: How would you describe the relation between Allegro and auction houses, antique shops and autonomous artists? Are you competitors, partners or perhaps something else entirely?
JW: Allegro was established over twenty years ago, it has eighteen million users who also purchase collectibles and artworks from small, middle and large companies or other collectors. For this reason, no one should view Allegro as their competition unless we’re talking about other marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon.
From the perspective of galleries, antique shops and auction houses, Allegro is yet another market or sales channel. Our goal is to provide our partners with the full spectrum of sales tools, a sort of well-equipped “online stand” if you will, and to ensure customer influx. The partner itself is fully in charge of sales – they are the ones who make decisions about their own offer and price policy. We collaborate very closely with our partners from the Collector’s Zone, we value their opinion. Every auction includes hundreds of objects from a number of categories. This section enjoys increasing popularity, so we continue improving it. The auction format offers a lot of room for innovation, so we’re planning thorough modifications of its features to better serve the unique nature of an art market.
KM: Allegro Prize is the big step towards becoming the patron of the arts, not to mention a strong statement declaring Allegro’s willingness to actively shape the Polish art scene. What are your future plans in this area?
JW: We had to reevaluate our initial ideas about Allegro Prize due to the pandemic. We certainly wish for this event to be organized periodically. Its formula would also need to be quite flexible so that we can adjust to the dynamic shifts in the art world.
We try to stay open-minded and keep deliberating about the model of art patronage that would lend support to the fragmented and underfunded culture sector and stay in touch with the current market issues. This year, we’re planning to offer funding to some of the leading fairs and festivals that needed to change their formula because of the pandemic. Traditionally, we organize charity auctions, which can also serve as a form of aid to the artists.
KM: Do you have any favorite visual artists?
JW: I do, quite a few actually. Among my most recent fascinations I could list off the top of my head Norman Leto, Janek Simon and the collective Slavs and Tatars. Norman Leto deserves a mention for the projects “Sailor” and “Photon,” Janek Simon for his exhibition “Synthetic Folklore,” Slavs and Tatars impress me with their grandiose overinterpretation of the Eurasian culture. I adore the paintings by Aleksandra Waliszewska and Julian Jakub Ziółkowski. Works by the members of a younger generation have also captured my attention lately at art shows: I thoroughly enjoyed the pieces by Karolina Jabłońska, Natalia Bażowska and Katarzyna Karpowicz. The foreign visual artist whose piece or exhibition I would love to see in Poland is Olafur Eliasson.
KM: What are you looking for in a submission? What kind of selection criteria are you planning to adopt as the member of a jury?
JW: First and foremost, I’m looking for a fresh and unique worldview. In that sense, my expectations couldn’t be more clear: I want novelty. In the times of climate crisis, pandemic and technological advancement which changes the rules of our communication, the artist should seek out new forms of expression and somehow address or even contest these transformations. My assessment of a work of art depends mainly on the presence or lack of any inner altercations arising from this encounter. I like it when my perspective and understanding of the world get deeper.
Interviewed by Karolina Miszczak