People were not really sure what to make of it when British tax lawyer Howard Bilton announced in 2003 that he was setting up the first Asia-wide art prize.
The surprise initially was that no one had thought of the idea before and then questions were asked about just how you could sufficiently cover such a vast region that boasts such diverse art.
But Bilton stuck to his task, gathered together a selection panel of at least three art experts from each country in the region and now the Sovereign Asian Art Prize (http://www.sovereignartfoundation.com) - which this year will be announced on January 27 - has established itself as the region's most prestigious.
"It takes time for an art prize to establish itself, for its aim to be understood and for it to become recognized in so many different countries,'' Bilton told Relaxnews. "We understand the Turner prize was largely ignored for the first 10 years of its life. The Asian prize is now in its sixth year and we think we are now established - achieved and recognized as the pre-eminent prize in Asia.''
This year's winner - chosen from a final field of 30 which includes artists from Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia among other countries - will be handed a check for US$25,000 and all the other finalists' work will be auctioned off during a gala dinner, with the proceeds split 50-50 between the artist and the charities supported by the Sovereign Art Foundation.
The general public can also vote for their favorite piece among the finalists by logging on to the foundation's website.
"We think everybody wins,'' said Bilton. "The artists gain international recognition and the prestige of being recognized by a world class panel of judges, our supporters get the chance to buy work by an artist who may well be on the verge of a major breakthrough in his career, and the proceeds of the sale go to help those who cannot help themselves.''
Asian Art Prize
Four Seasons Hong Kong, Central