Last Friday night, my mother and I were lucky enough to score a ticket to the opening of the Archibald, one of Australia’s premier art prizes. It was evening of artsy fashion, eating fancy hors d’ouevres, hobnobbing with notable artists and personalities, listening to a few speeches and getting exercise politely clapping with a glass of bubbly in your hand. I love the art, the controversy and the debate around this event: the Archibald always delivers. And this year is no exception.
We arrived fashionably late by fifteen minutes, which turned out to be long enough to miss the rush of the doors opening yet plenty of time to imbibe a few OJs and champagnes before the new Director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Dr Michael Brand, officially announced the winners of the four prizes: the Sulman, the Wynne, the Trustees’ Watercolour Prize, and the Archibald. It was fantastic to see three of the four winners were women, including the winner of the Archibald.
In his opening remarks, Dr Brand referred to the prizes as ‘the Archies’ multiple times. Giving them a nickname shows a great reverence for their significance within the Australian art world and popular culture, as well as great affection. To me it also sums up what the prizes are all about: it’s an egalitarian opportunity to submit your work, to have your say, irrespective of your training. Anyone could have a go — even I could still be an award-winning artist. It is possible, and that’s what is captivating about the ‘Archies’.
We positioned ourselves strategically near the stairs, so once the formalities were over, we were in the first wave to go through the gallery space downstairs to view the exhibition. The walls were a crisp white, the lighting was perfect and the ceilings high. Instantly, your eyes were drawn to the mass of colour on display.
Seeing the finalists of the Archibald Prize is the main attraction within the exhibition. The prize is awarded to the best portrait of a distinguished Australian, as painted by an Australian. This year, there were 868 entries from all over the country. Del Kathryn Barton won the $75,000 prize with an intricate portrait of the actor Hugo Weaving.
My only disappointment about the painting was seeing it hung in a rather odd spot. Being that every man and his dog wanted to study the picture, you could barely get close enough to it to see Barton’s intricate details, and thus crowding up Vincent Fantauzzo’s photorealistic portrait of actor Asher Keddie. After waiting a good ten minutes, I finally managed to snap this with only one person and the shoulder of another in the shot:
The popular choice for best portrait is rarely the same artwork as picked by the Committee. So there’s two additional (but unofficial) awards: The Packing Room Prize (as decided upon by those who unpack, sort and hang the art at the gallery), and the People’s Choice (as voted by members of the public after seeing the exhibition). I wasn’t able to get near the winner of the Packing Room Prize to nab a picture, but I did see the subject, Tara Moss, dressed and styled in the flesh as she was on canvas.
Here’s a handful of the Archibald finalists I liked for a multitude of reasons:
The Sulman Prize is awarded to “best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist”. The winner of the 2013 Sulman was Victoria Reichelt for ‘After (Books)’. It was my favourite artwork by far in the whole exhibition. It’s not terribly big, but the deer in the library stack was arresting, looking as though it was lit from within.
As in years past, most of my favourite pieces were towards the end of the exhibition, the finalists for the Sulman Prize. The Archibald entries may be the main drawcard, but I find the Sulman entries’ more broad, and I find the varied view points more interesting.
The prize for the best Australian landscape painting or sculpture is the Wynne Prize. I didn’t much care for the winning painting, but here were a few I enjoyed:
The Archibald Exhibition is open now until 2nd June at the Art Gallery of NSW, open daily (except Good Friday) from 10am until 5pm. Adults $10 / concession $8 / Child $8 / Member $7 . More info.
*All photos taken by me with an iPhone 4s at the Official Opening of the Archibald exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2013.