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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Australia's Archibald Prize

Portrait of Hugo Weaving, Del Kathryn Barton, 2013 Archibald Prize winner. 
You are what is most beautiful
about me, a self portrait with Kell 
and Arella, 2008 Archibald Prize
Prize winner, Del Kathryn Barton.
In writing about Australian artists, I've encountered at various times the mention of something called the Archibald Prize. Brett Whiteley, for instance, won the prestigious award in 1976 and 78. This year, (2013) the prize was won by Del Kathryn Barton with her portrait of the Australian film actor Hugo Weaving (above). The award goes only to portrait painters, only to Australian portrait painters, and only to Australian portrait painters painting Australians. The painting must also be less than a year old and painted from life rather than photos. The prize is currently set at $75,000 Australian dollars. Special consideration is given to portraits of figures having gained prominence in the arts and letters, as well as science or politics. Actually, there are three separate Archibald Prize winners each year.

The first Archibald Prize Winner,
1921, W.B. McInnes Portrait
of H. Desbrowe Annear.

The main prize winner is selected by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The signatures of the artists are covered to avoid favoritism or nepotism, as was often the case in early years. Del Kathryn Barton, the 2013 winner also won in 2008 with a self-portrait which included the faces of her two children. Several artists have won the award with self-portraits and several have won more than once. Some, such as William Dargie, have won repeatedly (eight times, in his case). W. B. McInnes won seven times. In fact, after the prize was first awarded in 1921, McInnes took it home in five out of the next six years. Of course, the prize amounted to only 400 British pounds at the time.

The 2013 Packing Room
Prize went to Matthew
Lynn for his portrait of
Tara Moss.
As McInnes' winning portrait from 1921 (above, left) would indicate, portraits are not what they used to be. But then, neither is art in general and the Archibald prize, over the past ninety-two years would seem to reflect that evolution. Nowhere is this more obvious than in what's come to be known as the "Packing Room Prize," which is the second of the three Archibald Prizes. Begun in 1991, as the name would indicate, those who pack and unpack the art entered in the competition get to vote on their favorite, although the "head storeman" pretty much decides who wins the $2,500 award, in that his vote counts for 51%. Their choices tend to run toward "leggy" models, actresses, and female writers if the 2013 winning painting of Australia's Tara Moss (right) by Matthew Lynn is any indication Until 1946, all entries were displayed. From that time on (as often happens in such shows grow in importance), the trustees began to "jury" the entries, which today have risen in number to around seven hundred each year. Only about fifty are chosen for display.

Love Face, 2013 Archibald People's Choice
Award winner by Vincent Fantauzzo.
The third category is the ever-popular People's Choice Award, another $2,500. The Packing Room Prize has never gone to the main Archibald Prize winner, but twice, the People's Choice award has been given to the big winner. The packing room apparently has less refined tastes than the jury. The peoples; choices tend to be more traditional, more conservative, and more photographically realistic than choices by the jury. This year, the people chose Vincent Fantauzzo's Love Face (above, left). Overall, painting styles range from near abstraction to near distraction (as seen below).

TV Moore, 2013, David Griggs, sorry, not this year.

Dear Trustees (self-portrait), 2013, by conceptual artist, Michael
Lindeman, an open letter to the trustees painted several times life-size.
Nice try, but no cigar.


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