For those of you who love trivia: while the Archibald Prize was established in 1921, it was only in 1946 that the Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) insisted upon pre-selecting the works. In that year, the more than half of the entries were eliminated, and the finalists’ exhibition was born.
As the popularity and notoriety of the “Archi” has grown over the past 99 years, that statistic has shifted from 50% to 5%. This year, 1068 entries were received for the 2020 Archibald Prize, with 55 making it into the finalist cut at the AGNSW. The previous record of 919 entries was set last year.
The Sulman Prize also set a new record, hitting 715 entries and topping out the 2012 high of 654 entries. It will be judged this year by artist Khadim Ali.
It was a record year all round. 2565 entries were received for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes collectively, beating the 2012 record of 2276 entries.
Perhaps this had a little to do with COVID, with more time on artist’s hands and the added incentive to have a go at the $100,000 win in financially tough times.
Read: 5 ways COVID has changed the Archibald Prize
This is also reflected in the fact that this year, there were more first time entrants than ever before: 40% for Archi; 50% for the Sulman and 33% for Wynne. And if you are interested: the gender breakdown overall was 48 female to 59 male artists across the suite of prizes.
The 2020 finalists for the three famed prizes were announced yesterday, along with another first – the winner of the 2020 Packing Room Prize was awarded to Wongutha-Yamatji artist Meyne Wyatt for his self-portrait Meyne. The West Australian born, Sydney-based Wyatt is an artist, writer and actor.
It is the first time an Indigenous artist has won any of the prizes in the Archibald suite.
His win follows a growing trend in recent years of artists’ portraits: 29 of the 55 Archi finalists are portraits of artists with 12 of those being self-portraits.
While the record number of entries suggest that COVID has had a huge impact, the spread of entries was strong from other states: second to NSW, 396 entries came from Victoria, 181 from Queensland, 64 from South Australia, 50 from Western Australia – and adding to a growing pool, though little known – eight from New Zealand.
WHO’S IN THE RUNNING?
Is there a science to painting a prize winner? Is it pure luck, or is it true that an elite cabal of known suspects tips the scales each year? Regardless of your thoughts, there are few trends worth noting in 2020.
There has not been a winning portrait of a politician in the Archibald Prize since 1992, when Bryan Westwood won the prize with an image of Paul Keating in a Zegna suit. Clearly politicians are être démodé – but are they really? A portrait of Jacinda Arden is a strong contender this year.
James Powditch’s painting of Anthony Albanese also made the finalists, though a portrait of Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t make the final cut.
As mentioned, portrayals of artists again form one of the strongest trends, though slightly down proportionally to last year. Maybe the realisation that the last four consecutive winners have been portraits of artists might mean the winning subject is due to shift.
This year, new records were met in terms of First Nations artists, with 26 entries by Indigenous artists making the final cut and 10 Indigenous sitters, making for a more balanced and representational suite of prizes.
Artists can paint anyone from politicians to celebrities to sporting heroes, as long as the sitters are ‘of note’. Some of the celebrities in the 2020 line up are: Adam Liaw, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Conway, Adam Goodes, Bruce Pascoe, Claire Dunne, Timothy Flannery Graeme Doyle, Annabel Crabb, Maggie Tabberer, Jennifer Byrne, Chalres Madden, David Marr and more.
Read: Does being an Archibald finalist help?
Shifting scale, punchy colour and quirky approaches are key this year, and have been emphasised in the hang of the 2020 exhibition, where curator Anne Ryan has flipped expectations from the start, with visitors walking directly into the Sulman Prize – the smallest of the prizes in both entries and money, and usually tagged onto the end of the exhibition as a postscript.
We are then ushered through the Wynne, eventually entering the Archibald via a circuitous route, which is of course reserved for the central gallery and often the location of the winner.
What does this all mean? And can past trends and current kudos impact the judges’ choice? ArtsHub thinks so. And this is why.
John Ward Knox, Jacinda (detail), finalist, 2020 Archibald Prize. Image supplied.
OUR PREDICTION FOR 2020 ARCHIBALD PRIZE
Who: John Ward Knox
Why: I am going out on a limb on this one, and given its placement in the exhibition hang, it would suggest that it is probably not a contender – out of range of the central gallery and media mosh pit for the big unveil. But there is merit in this work by New Zealand artist John Ward Knox of NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as well as its capacity to rethink the genre, that struck hard.
In many ways, the positioning and prowess of James Powditch’s painting of another politician – Once upon a time in Marrickville: Anthony Albanese – makes more sense as a contender; a regular finalist with high profile sitters in a signature style. Perhaps the suggestion would be that it is Powditch’s time.
But I would argue that Knox’s portrait is the more interesting option. And it is both a strong psychological and physical match. Painted on layered silk in oil, it doesn’t have the weight we expect of a oil portrait, appearing a little like a mirage of hope on a calm horizon.
It doesn’t have the weight we expect of a oil portrait, appearing a little like a mirage of hope on a calm horizon.
Knox has known Ardern for a decade, long before she became PM, and that connection between artist and sitter, as well as the subject’s honesty, comes through here, with Ardern depicted sitting at her kitchen table.
The portrait captures the humanity and humility that the world has come to associate with Ardern, who in many ways has re-defined the parameters of global politics – and the medium here offers a reflection of that new approach.
The portrait is comprised of dual layers / dual portraits that delicately hover central to an exposed frame. It captures a fragility of politics and a commitment to take the empathic path, and within it a strength – to persist, to be different – should we choose to look. It is a very strong portrait, despite its quiet demeanor; a message that a win at this time would be welcomed in a world struggling with frailty.
Perhaps 2020 is ripe for another first: for the Archi to be awarded to a NZ artist?
ArtsHub Highly Commends: Julie Fragar’s steroid-sized portrait of artist Richard Bell (matching his personality) in black and white; Abdul Abdullah’s untitled self portrait; Jonathan Dalton’s painting of artist Angela Tiatia commands attention; for lovers of hyper-real portraits, Angus McDonald’s portrait of Behrouz Boochani leads the pack; and for a nice take on the genre, William Mackinnon’s portrait, Sunshine and Lucky (life).
The past seven winners have been:
- Tony Costa with a portrait of former Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) Trustee Lindy Lee (2019);
- Yvette Coppersmith with Self-portrait, after George Lambert (2018);
- Mitch with a portrait of artist wife Agatha Gothe-Snape (2017);
- Louise Hearman with a portrait of Barry [Humphries] (2016) – a first time entrant;
- Nigel Milsom’s painting Judo house part 6 (the white bird) – a portrait of Milsom’s barrister Charles Waterstreet (2015);
- Fiona Lowry’s portrait of art patron Penelope Seidler (2014);
- Del Kathryn Barton with actor hugo [Weaving] (2013) – her second win (2008).
View the Archibald Prize 2020 finalists.
Aida Tomescu, Silent Spring (2020). 2020 Wynne Prize Finalist, Art Gallery of NSW. Image supplied.
OUR PREDICTION FOR 2020 WYNNE PRIZE
Who: Aida Tomescu
What: Silent spring
Why: This is a gusty and visceral painting by Aida Tomescu – an artist who is intimately familiar with the Wynne Prize, having taken it in 2001, and the Sulman Prize in 1996. For this reason, one might suggest it is time for another winner to take the accolade, but with the past four years consecutively being awarded to Indigenous artists, there is also the suggestion that a broader look across the field of landscape painting traditions are due for a voice.
The field of Indigenous paintings from Country, however, are the lions’ share of Wynne entries: 16 of the 34 finalists (47%).
Tomescu’s painting curiously has a strong conversation with works by Noŋgirrŋa Marawili and Alec Baker and Peter Mungkuri, which hang in the same gallery space and bounce in a riotous field of pinks.
It is, however, the knitty surface of Tomescu’s painting with its grit and luminosity that stands out. It doesn’t feel weighted by its gesture.
Tomescu describes her own connection to the conditions particular to the Australian landscape: ‘…the sheer expansiveness of the land, the splendour and severity of colour, and specifically the quality of light. In the extreme circumstances of 2019–20, each of those conditions was dramatically altered, practically and emotionally.’
The title Silent spring references the environmental science book by Rachel Carson published in 1962, and in that a timelessness regarding climate science and the need to care for our environment. As the world burns, this painting has a particular resonance to the landscape consideration in 2020.
ArtsHub Highly Commends: Timothy Cook’s Kulama – an initiation for young Tiwi people that coincides with the harvest of wild yam; friends and Lawmen, Alec Baker and Peter Mungkuri, on their incredible painting Nganampa Nguraa (our Country) – a very strong contender this year; Luke Sciberra’s painting that capture the white ashen aftermath of the bushfires, White Christmas, Bell NSW; Nicholas Blowers Savage’s entropy in Payne’s grey; Lucy O’Doherty’s sweet hazy little painting Afternoon light on coral house, which has a kind of warm nostalgic glow of sun-baked suburbia; and the incredible Noŋgirrŋa Marawili’s Lightning and the rock, always a winner in many’s eyes.
The past seven winners have been:
- The last Wynne Prize was awarded to Sylvia Ken with her painting Seven Sisters (2019);
- Yukultji Napangati in 2018.
- Betty Kuntiwa Pumani won the prize in 2017
- The Ken Family Collaborative (which also included Sylvia Ken) and their painting Seven Sisters picking up the award in 2016.
- Natasha Bieniek’s tiny hyper-real painting won in 2015;
- Michael Johnson’s expansive abstraction in 2014;
- And for two years running, the Wynne was awarded to Imants Tillers (2013 & 2012).
View the Wynne Prize 2020 finalists.
Gareth Sansom, Looking for God in abstract art (2020). 2020 Sulman Prize Finalist, Art Gallery of NSW. Image supplied.
OUR PREDICTION FOR 2020 SULMAN PRIZE
Who: Gareth Sansom
What: Looking for God in abstract art
Why: The quirkiest and least consistent of the Prizes, the Sulman is award to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media.
This painting by Melbourne artist Gareth Sansom just pops, with forms and gestures seemingly emerging from and levitating in front of the black canvas. In some moments the line is definitive and determined; at others there is a ghost-like quality that haunts the inner emotions of this painting.
With a religiosity, the words FAITH and INRI occupy the painting, calling into question notions of mortality in a world that is plagued by a pandemic.
Sansom explains: ‘My painting interrogates the idea that God may or may not be present in any situation,’ and then explains the work’s filmic references.
‘Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal has a returning knight playing chess with the Grim Reaper whilst seeking evidence that God exists. Ultimately the film asserts there will be no proof of God’s existence forthcoming. I haven’t attempted to examine any of this literally, but I do include some clues about the painting’s intentions – six pilgrims, six faces, INRI [a Latin inscription translated as ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews’] and “faith” – which may conjure up ideas about my own mortality at age 80, or may be seen as red herrings within an abstract puzzle.’
ArtsHub Highly Commends: Philjames’ The General Lee (1984-2018) a nostalgic TV cluster that seems to surpass time to a new COVID reality; John Honeywill’s Hyperreal painting of a pink macaroon Ambrosia, which encountered on entry, keeps you salivating the length of your visit; and Tom Polo’s retreat and return (the arrival), which gets the scale and gesture perfectly balanced.
The past seven winners have been:
- McLean Edwards with his quirky painting The first girl that knocked on his door (2019);
- Aboriginal artist Kaylene Whiskey (2018);
- Joan Ross’ Oh history, you lied to me (2017);
- A domestic interior by Esther Stewart (2016)
- Jason Phu’s ink on paper which looked at his Chinese heritage (2015)
- Andrew Sullivan’s quirky hyper-real fantasy T-rex (tyrant lizard king) (2014),
- And Victoria Reichelt’s image of a deer in a library, After (books) (2013).
View the Sulman Prize 2020 finalists.
The winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes will be announced 25 September in a virtual event. The exhibition will remain on show with timed ticketed entry until 10 January 2021.
Finalists in all Prizes will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW from 26 September 2020 to 10 January 2021, and finalists in the Archibald Prize 2020 will tour to regional Queensland and New South Wales from 22 January 2021: