The large number of entrants and finalists for this years 2014 Archibald Prize is a nod to the staying power of painting, says the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new director of collections Suyhanya Raffel.
First awarded in 1921, the Archibald Prize is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art award given for a portrait selected each year by the Trustees of the NSW Art Gallery.
Speaking at the gallery on the announcement of the finalists on July 10, Ms Raffel said the strength of the Archibald lay not only in its diversity but also in its ever increasing popularity.
“It is a show that emphasises that painting is alive and well,” she told The Epoch Times. “We have seen it in the number of entries [representing] just one year’s worth of painting. Its great to see that level of engagement and interest.”
There were 884 entries this year, up from 860 in 2013 and 839 in 2012. The 54 finalists will now compete as much for the $75,000 prize as for the recognition.
Some of Australia’s most famous artists have won the Archibald in previous years, including Brett Whitely, William Robinson, Gary Shead and John Olsen.
Tim Storrier, winner of the 2012 Archibald, is also a finalist this year, but it is unlikely he will snare the prize. His portrait of a disheveled Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson KCB AO – the comic and crude alter ego of comedian Barry Humphries – won this year’s $1500 Packing Room Prize. The prize is also known as the “kiss of death”, as no artist has ever won both prizes.
“It’s always been a mystery to me as to why that is,” said head storeman Steve Peters. “Hopefully this year we will get lucky.”
Mr Peters, who has 51 per cent of the vote in the packing room, is on his 37th Archibald and 23rd Packing Room Prize. He says his basic criteria is simple – it has to look like the subject.
“I have been a fan of Barry Humphries for a number of years and Les actually cracks me up. It’s great! It just looks like Les,” he said.
In accepting the award at the Gallery, Mr Storrier paid tribute to the packers.
“Trustees come and trustees go, and dare I say directors have come and gone, but Steve, I think, has outlived them all,” he said adding, “It’s so democratic isn’t it.”
The 65 year old Sydney artist, also known for his burning desert landscapes, apologised for Dr Sir Patterson’s absence and read a cheeky statement from the unruly character:
“I’m very proud to have this beautiful hand done painting of me in this prestigious Archibald show. I think I can say without vanity that I have been the face of Australian politics and culture for three decades. Other politicos have come and gone and sunken into oblivion. But I have achieved — through my dignity, oratory and charisma — a place of distinction second to none.”
One of the criteria for entering the Archibald is that subjects must be a “man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics”.
Finalists this year include portraits of art patron Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry; Vietnamese refugee Tam Do by his son Anh Do, a talented author, comedian and actor; Cao Yin, curator of Chinese art at the NSW Art Gallery, by Dapeng Liu; a double portrait of Cate Blanchett by Tim Maguire; and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes by Alan Jones.
Only two politicians were included: a portrait of NSW MP Gladys Berejiklian by Salvatore Zofrea, and Tom Uren, a WWII POW and former Labor politician, painted by Mirra Whale.
The winner of the Archibald Prize will be announced on Friday, July 18. Winners will also be announced for the $35,000 Wynne Prize for best Australian landscape painting or figure sculpture, and the $30,000 Sulman Prize for best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media.