Saturday, July 19, 2014

Archibald, Wynne and Sulman at the AGNSW - 19 July

The big prizes have moved back in the AGNSW calendar and that's a good thing as far as I can see. There really isn't anything else on right now in the art world.  Which is why yours truly decided to brave the crowds and head over to the AGNSW on the first weekend after the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes were announced.  Would we concur with the trustees / judges?  Would we be allowed to take a selfie?  Let's find out ...

So first up is always the Archibald.  I would like to see the AGNSW mix this up for once and have you enter through the Wynne, that'd get everyone talking!  Hardly any real controversy this year, even the chicks making out didn't raise an eyebrow.  What is going on?  I did like the collection of smaller works that had been hung together.  I, like many others, decry the super sized entries that this prize seems to encourage.  One other thing I like about the Archibald is that it is quite acceptable to tee off on the art.  John McDonald has had a great go this year, see here, lots of reasonable arguments there.  John's pet peeve this year is portraits painted from photographs rather than the subject formally sitting.  I know what he is talking about.  I sat for a portrait back in the day and it took quite a few of them.  My own pet peeve concerns all the random punters being painted.  Officially the prize is for a portrait "preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia".  My preferential is a little stricter than the AGNSW, hence I would've flicked about half the entries for non-compliance.  I was particularly annoyed with Vincent Fantauzzo's 'self-portrait', which is actually a photo realistic portrait of his son and a particularly cloying artist statement to try and get it to qualify for this prize.  Anyway, I'll stop there before I pick off a few others.  Breathe.  Okay, on to those that did actually float my boat.  Top pick was Mitch Cairn's Reg Richardson AM.  Distinguished subject, check.  Portrait in distinctive style of artist, check.  Not too large, check.  This was a very striking portrait (mainly because of those glasses, image top) but I really liked how the portrait was still obviously in the modernist style that Mitch is making his signature.  Other highlights were Sophia Hewson's kissing girls (or the twins as my three year old called it) and Zoe Young's Torah Bright.  I liked the aesthetics of James Powditch's Citizen Kave, it did look like a good movie.  I did try to think, based on the entries submitted, who I'd get to paint my portrait if push came to shove (apart from Mitch). Paul Mallam (pic above, The Card Player) was probably the other winner there.  Before we move on, please note that the top image is courtesy of my iphone, the rest are from the AGNSW website.  You see, they are rocking the no photos allowed policy.  I had seen a few people taking snaps so started to help myself when a guard said no.  I said what about that dude - he turned out to be an artist, and apparently you are allowed to take photos of your own work.  Hey AGNSW, how about next time we actually get on the social media train.  After just coming back from New York where Sotheby's are trying to promote their auctions with the #sothebysselfie tag I can't see why we are being backwards about it.

Next stop is always the Wynne.  For once, I agreed with the judges.  Michael Johnson's Oceania high low (pictured above), probably would've got the nod from me.  This was quite a large work but at the same time a very retro abstract work.  Quite colourful and the 3 year old junior critic liked it a lot, although in her mind the pastel cityscape of Michael Muir would've given it a run for its money.  I liked Noel McKenna's Palm Beach wharf and also Kate Shaw's Maralinga (which I think would be even more striking if she did it when the bomb was going off).  I'm getting a bit over Joshua Yeldham's Wynne entries.  It's like he has had the same work for about 5 years now.  Also due for a spell is Tim Storrier.  You won the big prize last year Tim, take a year off!

Last stop is ... you guessed it - the Sulman!  Now this is usually my favourite prize given how random it is (especially if R. Bell happens to be judging).  Sadly this was one of the weakest years in my mind.  Didn't like much.  I like political paintings but political artist statements give me the irrits, so Darren Wardle was discounted straight off the bat.  Fiona Lowry had one of her trademark works (by the way I did like some random interwebs criticism of her Archie winner that instagram should just develop a Lowry filter - meow), Noel McKenna had a still life and that was about it for the big names.  I quite liked Maz Dixon (image above, Colony). I've seen Maz repped on Sydney's own little art startup Art Pharmacy (link here). So I was familiar with her vintage postcard inspired practise.  Now I think I prefer her Big Pineapple, Gold Coast meter maids and Currumbin Bird Sanctuary lorikeets but this seaworld inspired dolphins and the random blob (which happens to be a whale) are streets ahead of the field here.

Points:  Mitch is going to bag the 3 points for his Archibald entry here.  More prestigious than the Trustee's Highly Commended?  Probably not ... yet.  The 2 will go to Maz for her Sulman entry.  The 1 from the Wynne will actually go to James Drinkwater as I did like his retro abstract landscape and I figured Michael already won the Wynne so what was a point to him!  James' Down the Awabakel Trail (above) lets me in on the fact he is from the Hunter, and Hunter boys stick together.  Well down Jimbo.

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