“Berlin” – 2nd prize, 2011


Mogens Ulderup (* 1968)
120 x 80 cm
Collection of the artist

The jury awards the 2nd prize to the Danish artist Mogens Ulderup with the following citation:

What is a good portrait? To me, it is a work which addresses me, which communicates. You are in no doubt when you are faced with the grand masters. In Diego Velazquez’ portrait of Pope Innocens X, the Pope looks at the spectator as if we by an act of miraculous mind reading have caught him doing something which he ought to keep away from. He looks like that every time you look at him, and so far he has hung at the noble family Doria Pamphiliis’ mansion in Rome with that effect.
He himself was aware of this, and when he saw the portrait he reputedly exclaimed: “It is all too true!”
Is Mogens Ulderup’s portrait of a young man from Berlin capable of something similar? Risking offending many who know better, I would answer… “yes”. Every time you return to the portrait, a guessing competition starts anew. Who is this young man caught in a busy moment? He has either been working hard or is in the middle of it. Where is he going? What is his clone doing in the background? Are they movers of the light kind, who only carry standard lamps, potted plants and plastic bags, while stout hairy men in the background handle pianos, diving bells and stuffed filing cabinets? Or is it “finished work and time for smoking a Cecil”, as an old slogan stated? Except that these guys would be smoking Green Eco-friendly Kings, if it came to that.
Formally, the portrait is classically composed with a slight twist. His face is almost tritely situated in the middle of the picture, turned directly at us. On the other hand, there is far more air above him than there normally is, which enables his surroundings to play a part in the story. His upper body is turned either towards us or away from us, depending on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist. At least it is in motion. What is it that has been SO strenuous?
He looks like a person going through a transitional phase. He is so young that there must be a limit to the accidents he has yet caused, and he has seemingly not adorned himself with tokens of power or wealth. His white ultimately modest t-shirt is almost stripped of an identity and is the closest you can come to appear nude in a tasteful competition. Red-cheeked he signals a basic youthful energy, and I would be lying if I did not admit that he catches my eye because he looks unusually appetizing.
Yet, he also looks steadily into the camera and thus at us: He, too, demands an answer from us. So what is it? Are you game; do you want to come along; must you be left out in the cold? As a member of the jury, I had the privilege of being able to call photographer Mogens Ulderup and get an explanation. It turns out that the explanation is rather lengthy and somewhat dramatic, but I am not sure that the image gets better by understanding how it was made. The strangest thing is that the image is shot with an old-fashioned analogue pocket camera, Olympus XA, from the 1980s, and all the sophisticated effects in the composition have not been created in the cropping afterwards. It is the ENTIRE negative we see!
Life is unfair; Velazquez spent a lifetime learning to conjure up the truth in a painting. Others use a pocket camera to capture a moment, which is awarded a prize rather than 5-600 other contributions in a Nordic portrait competition. You see, this is really a good portrait.

Adrian Hughes