On Wednesday October 26, at a reception in Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery in Mayfair, The Critics’ Circle Art & Architecture section, representing many of the country’s top critics in those fields, presented their annual awards in front of an invited audience of 70 guests from the art world.

The blue riband Services to the Arts Award was presented to Iwona Blazwick, outgoing director of the Whitechapel Gallery, for her 20 years’ service to that institution. Blazwick oversaw a vast extension of the gallery – and a similarly significant increase in its prestige – organising first exhibitions for Liam Gillick, Nan Goldin, Sarah Lucas and Thomas Struth as well as impactful shows featuring Eileen Agar, the Guerilla Girls, Hannah Höch, William Kentridge, Mark Wallinger and Gillian Wearing. In effect she put the Whitechapel Gallery back on the UK’s cultural map, and did much to bring art audiences flocking to London’s previously unfashionable East End.

The Denise Silvester Carr Unsung Hero Award was awarded to Matthew Burrows, recognising his foundation and organisation of the Artists Support Pledge, a scheme which enabled artists to sell their works on Instagram while the galleries were closed during Covid. The beauty of the ASP – still running today – was that for every £1000 an artist made, they pledged to plough back £200 by investing in another artist’s work: it was a lifeline to many artists (and craftspeople) and has raised millions of pounds, in the UK and beyond. Burrows has gone on to initiate another successful fundraising campaign, Ukraine Support Pledge, in collaboration with Zavier Ellis, who ran the Solo Contemporary section of this year’s British Art Fair. His award was a certificate hand-printed on the St Dominic’s Press at Ditchling Art + Craft Museum.

The reception was hosted by section Chair Alex Leith (yours truly!) who invited his predecessor Corinne Julius to present Blazwick with her award, a bespoke sculpture designed by Elizabeth Degenszeijn. Entertainment was provided by esteemed poet John Agard and internationally acclaimed jazz flautist Keith Waithe, both originally from Guyana, who successfully encouraged the audience to sing along to one of Agard’s accompanied poems, quite a coup.

The reception was held in Thaddaeus Ropac’s ground-floor gallery, currently showing the paintings of Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie, whose works – a modern twist on Francis Bacon with elements of Warhol and Picasso – formed a colourful backdrop to proceedings. Guests were invited to view the rest of the Ghenie show on the first floor of the gallery, formerly the London residence of the Bishop of Ely.