The Art Gallery of NSW’s Prestigious Archibald Prize Has Announced Its 2020 Finalists – Concrete Playground

Australia’s most prestigious portrait award is around the corner, and its finalists have just been announced.

Every year, speculation about who will be awarded the coveted prize and, more often than not, the Archibald winner itself, causes much-heated debate. From 2018’s five-time Archibald finalist Yvette Coppersmith’s first win to Tony Costa’s win with his painting of fellow artist Lindy Lee — the first portrait of an Asian Australian to pick up the prize — it’s hard a win to pick. All that’s really assured is that it’ll be a portrait of a person by an Australian.

Held at the Art Gallery of NSW every year, the Archibald runs in conjunction with the Wynne and Sulman Prizes — recognising the best landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture and the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project, respectively.

This year, because of a certain pandemic, the Archibald was postponed and is running from September 2020 to January 2021. As usual, it’s sure to be popular, but instead of pushing through crowds to see the prized portraits, you’ll have a bit of space thanks to reduced capacities and timed tickets.

And you’ll have some exceptional artworks to feast your eyes upon, too. Famed Sydney street artist Scott Marsh’s portrait of musician Adam Briggs has made the cut, as have a haunting painting of comedian Magda Szubanski and a Star Trek-esque oil work of NSW Minister for Environment and Energy Matt Kean.

Wongutha-Yamatji artist Meyne Wyatt has also taken out the coveted 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize, chosen by the packing room team, becoming the first Indigenous Australian to win any Archibald award in the competition’s 99-year history.

As there are so many outstanding portraits this year (as there are every year), it’s impossible to know which of the 55 is going to take home the $100,000 prize. Regardless, here are some of our favourites — and some we think may have a good chance of winning.

MEYNE WYATT — MEYNE

Actor and artist Meyne Wyatt became the first Indigenous Australian in Archibald history to win any of the competition’s awards when he won the 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize. The history-making self-portrait is a realistic acrylic painting and, in fact, Wyatt’s first painting in over ten years. The Wongutha-Yamatji man and first-time Archibald entrant has no formal art training, but gets some handy tips from his mum Sue Wyatt who was herself an Archibald finalist in 2003. If the portrait above, and Wyatt’s signature raised eyebrow, look familiar, it’s likely you’ve seen him in the likes of The Sapphires, Redfern Now and Neighbours.

SCOTT MARSH — SALUTE OF GENTLE FRUSTRATION

Artist Scott Marsh’s portraits aren’t a rare site on the streets of Sydney (see: Egg Boy, Mike Baird and Kanye Loves Kanye) but they are a rare site on the walls of the AGNSW. The first-time finalist has joined the ranks of the country’s art elite with his seventh submission to the Archibald Prize: a portrait of Indigenous Australian rapper Adam Briggs. The portrait is entitled Salute of gentle frustration, which Marsh says references “the deep fatigue of generations of Aboriginal people demanding equality against a backdrop of political rhetoric and inaction”.

KAYLENE WHISKEY — DOLLY VISITS INDULKANA

Self-taught artist Kaylene Whiskey listens to the music of famed American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton while she paints. It’s an effective technique, it seems, with Whiskey already cleaned up the Sulman Prize in 2018 and the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for general painting in 2019. Now, Whiskey is one of 55 finalists selected for the Archibald Prize with a self-portrait in which Dolly visits her home in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. In the painting, Dolly holds a bejewelled guitar and the pair is surrounded by clocks, cameras, superwomen, galahs and a flying nun.

ANGUS MCDONALD — BEHROUZ BOOCHANI

This year, after more than six years in an Australian offshore detention centre, celebrated Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani was granted asylum in New Zealand. Sydney artist Angus McDonald first made contact with Boochani when he was making a documentary, called Manus, about the Manus Island detention centre, but was not allowed onto the island to meet him. So, when Boochani landed in NZ, McDonald decided to fly there and paint him instead. The oil portrait sees Boochani looking directly at the viewer, which McDonald says portrays Boochani as a “a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived a brutal ordeal and is now free”.

YURI SHIMMYO — CARNATION, LILY, YURI, ROSE

Japan-born, Sydney-based artist Yuri Shimmyo’s inspiration for her self-portrait came from a 19th-century painting by John Singer Sargent called Carnation, lily, lily, rose. While Sargent’s painting features two girls playing in a garden, Shimmyo’s features herself — Yuri means ‘lily’ in Japanese — covered in lilies, surrounded by a wallpaper of roses. As for the carnations, if you look to the left of the oil portrait, you’ll red-and-blue tins of Carnation milk.

The winning portraits and finalists will be on display at Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW from Saturday, September 26 to Sunday, January 10. If you do’t agree with the judges, you can cast your own vote for People’s Choice before Sunday, December 13.

ARCHIBALD PRIZE 2020 DATES

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney — September 26–January 10
Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, NSW — January 22–March 7
Cairns Art Gallery, Qld — March 19–May 2
Griffith Regional Art Galley, NSW — May 14–June 27
Broken Hill Regional Art Galley, NSW — July 9–August 22
Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, NSW — September 3–October 17
Penrith Regional Gallery, NSW — October 29–December 5

If you can’t make it to any of the above dates, you can check out the award winners and finalists of the ArchibaldWynne and Sulman Prizes on the Art Gallery of NSW website.

Published on September 21, 2020 by Samantha Teague


Japanese POW art in Australasia ‘entirely ignored’ until now – The Mainichi

This undated photo shows a painting of a woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono by a Japanese wartime internee in New Zealand. (Photo courtesy of Featherston Heritage Museum)(Kyodo)

SYDNEY (Kyodo) — Hundreds of works of art created by Japanese prisoners of war and civilian internees detained in Australia and New Zealand during World War II have been studied for the very first time by academics, having been “entirely ignored” by scholars for decades.

In their article, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, co-authors Richard Bullen from the University of Canterbury and Tets Kimura of Flinders University said the works complicate the commonly accepted narrative of Japanese people during wartime and provide further insight into the “isolating and traumatic experience of internment.”

Bullen, 52, told Kyodo News that unlike internment camps in the United States, the history of wartime detention in Australia and New Zealand is largely unknown.

Despite having devoted his career to studying Japanese art in New Zealand, Bullen said he had no idea the works existed until very recently.

“It’s quite extraordinary,” the associate professor of art history and theory said in a phone interview. “The artworks that were produced at the camps…have been, until this point, entirely ignored.”

Throughout the war, roughly 5,000 Japanese or part-Japanese POWs and civilians were interned at eight locations across Australia and New Zealand.

This undates photo shows a painting of a woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono by a Japanese wartime internee in Australia. (Photo courtesy of Cowra Regional Art Gallery)(Kyodo)

The authors say the style and medium of the artworks, which include paintings, sculptures and game pieces for mahjong and traditional Japanese “hanafuda” playing cards, varied greatly by location.

Artwork from camps in South Australia, where native hardwood was available, included intricately carved marquetry boxes and large three-dimensional wooden sculptures, while pieces from New Zealand were often painted onto wooden offcuts from camp construction materials.

Artists also used easily attainable medicines instead of paints to color their works.

“Some of the most beautiful pieces are the games like hanafuda cards and mahjong sets,” Bullen said, noting that some works appear to have been created by individuals with artistic training.

“Some were made for exchange (with guards) for tobacco or camp currency, but a lot were made for playing in the camp.”

In addition to trading art with guards, the authors found prisoners also gifted works to local farmers and nurses who had shown them particular kindness.

However, despite the artworks facilitating relationships across the wartime divide, Bullen said the situation at the camps should not be misinterpreted.

“It’s easy to look at the camp and say ‘Oh look at all the beautiful artworks and everyone got on so well because they were exchanging (art) with the guards,” because that’s clearly (incorrect),” he said, noting the significant power dynamic between prisoners and guards.

This undated photo shows a sculpture of two figures kissing by a Japanese wartime internee in Australia. (Photo courtesy Barmera Visitor Information Centre)(Kyodo)

“The prisoners were making items which would have taken hours and hours of work for a little bit of tobacco or a small amount of money…It wasn’t a happy situation for the prisoners. None of them wanted to be there.”

Bullen said in addition to feelings of nostalgia or homesickness for Japan displayed through depictions of women dressed in kimono, landscapes of Mt. Fuji, there is also a sense of nationalism and militarism seen through images of Japanese castles and the “hinomaru” wartime flag also featuring heavily in works.

“There’s an underlying nationalism there, perhaps a sense of resistance to the experience they were having, and I don’t think that was ever picked up by the guards,” Bullen said.

Unlike Japanese prisoners, the authors said works by civilian internees did not depict the same feelings of nationalism. Instead, some civilian pieces are reminiscent of works by European artists.

“Prisoners of war were either Japanese or from the Japanese empire, so Taiwanese or Korean, so their experience and who they were was quite different from a second-generation Australian whose father happened to be ethnic Japanese,” Bullen said.

“They’re different people (and) we think that’s reflected in the kind of art they made.”

Following the war, prisoners and many civilians were repatriated to Japan, causing a decades-long hiatus of Japanese art produced in either Australia or New Zealand.

As the authors note, “Ironically, the darkest period of Japanese history in Australasia is the region’s richest period of Japanese art.”

Australia police in spotlight on Indigenous deaths in custody – Al Jazeera English

Brisbane, Australia – “Say her name!” yelled Ruby Wharton to a crowd of Black Lives Matter supporters in Brisbane, as hundreds took to the streets of the Queensland city following the death of a 49-year-old Indigenous woman in police custody.  

The 23-year-old activist from the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance collective was speaking on behalf of a community reeling from the loss of 441 Indigenous Australians in police custody since 1991. To date, not a single officer has been charged.

“This right here is not a protest, this is ceremony; this is lore; this is our responsibility,” she said, her anger and determination unshakeable. 

“The first point of cause for First Nations people when we mourn, is we sing them home,” Wharton said.

“Aunty Sherry”, as protesters have named the Birri Gubba woman out of respect for Indigenous culture that precludes the naming of deceased people, was 49 years old, and a mother of three. She was found dead in a cell at the Brisbane police station in the early hours of September 10. Arrested on property and drug matters four days earlier, she had appeared in court a day after her arrest and remanded in custody until October 7.

Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd told journalists that a post-mortem examination appeared to indicate “that the death was by natural causes,” but that the circumstances remained under investigation. 

For a community that has long pointed to the mistreatment and neglect of Indigenous people in custody, his comments brought little solace.

Protesters sat on the street outside Brisbane police headquarters. Aunty Sherry was the 441st Indigenous person to die in police custody since a landmark royal commission in 1991 [Margarite Clarey/Al Jazeera] 

“We’ve seen this, four hundred and forty-one times now,” said Wharton. “Systemic racism always cancels out the truth. Time and time again, police investigate police.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service says five Indigenous people have died in custody since June.

“This is a national emergency and we demand urgent national leadership,” NATSILS co-chair Nerita Waight said in a statement. “This lack of accountability means that in practice there is no penalty for the death of our people in custody. More police officers involved in deaths in custody have been promoted than convicted, but there cannot be justice without accountability.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise only 3 percent of Australia’s population, but they make up almost a third of adults jailed across the country.

The rates are even higher for Indigenous youth, who were 16 times more likely to be under youth justice supervision – in detention, or on bail, parole or probation – than non-Indigenous young people in 2018-19, according to the Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare, a government agency.

Human Rights Watch says the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system, which has increased by 9 percent since 2000, is often the result of minor offences like unpaid fines.

In a submission to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Australia, which is set for early 2021, the rights group says the government has failed to heed the recommendations laid out in the 1991 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and calls for an end to the “mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in police cells and prisons”.

Cries for change

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations set in motion by the death of George Floyd in the United States have brought renewed scrutiny to Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous people.

Australian actor Meyne Wyatt posed for a photo with his packing room prize-winning self-portrait at the Art Gallery of New South Wales wearing a ‘Justice for Aunty Sherry’ mask. Wyatt is the first Indigenous artist to claim any part of the prestigious Archibald Prize, which has been running for 99 years [Joel Carrett/EPA] 

In June, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in solidarity with US protesters, to demand justice for Indigenous lives lost in custody.

The Birri Gubba woman’s death sparked new marches in the city and 18 protesters were arrested after scuffles broke out in front of police headquarters. More rallies are planned later on Friday.

Aboriginal resident Phillip Murrii said that despite years of protests, the situation was only getting worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

“I’m a parent of a young daughter. She is more likely – after all of these years of us fighting on the street – to die, than I was at the same age. She is more likely to be imprisoned than I was at the same age. She is more likely to take her own life than I was at that age,” they said.

“Things are not getting better for our people; they are getting worse. 

“We are not getting on top of the system. The system is still on top of us. They still have their knees on our necks and they are still killing our people every day in this colony.

New targets were set in June to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates under a long-standing government initiative to “close the gap” on contributors such as health, education and employment inequalities.

Wharton says change will not happen until First Nations values and laws are acknowledged and made part of the solution.

“We did not dream no dreaming; we came from that dreaming,” she said, referring to the Aboriginal belief system on creation and the laws of existence.

Ruby Wharton addressed the crowd that gathered after the death of Aunty Sherry in police custody in Brisbane on September 10. She says the Indigenous community will not stop fighting for justice [Margarite Clarey/Al Jazeera]

“This is law, we live in multiple dimensions at the one time and we work to uphold our responsibility. When we bring those values to the front line and come up against systemic racism, based on a common and civil law legal system, what weapons have we got?

“The solution doesn’t exist in their system because that system don’t protect us,” she said.

Indigenous activists have renewed calls for the government to create a treaty process to negotiate with the clans and bring an end to Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody. 

Meanwhile, Wharton said the community was not prepared to just sit around and wait for justice.

“We’ve said many, many names here,” she said. “We come back, time and time again. No matter how many times you kick us we get back up. That’s what Brisbane bla(c)ks do.”

Vibrancy, experimentation and risk in ACE Open’s survey of South Australian art – The Conversation AU

Review: If the future is to be worth anything, curated by Patrice Sharkey and Rayleen Forester, ACE Open

“If the future is to be worth anything” rings true as a question for many in Australia’s art world today. It is an apt title for this ambitious survey exhibition measuring the pulse of contemporary art in South Australia.

Partway through the gestation process for the artists making work for this survey, COVID-19 hit and artists retreated to their studios. But this has given a sharper focus to Patrice Sharkey and Rayleen Forester’s curatorial probe.

This is the fourth survey exhibition of contemporary South Australian artists over the last two decades, following much larger survey exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2000 and 2013, and the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (one of the two precursors to ACE Open) in 2010.

ACE Open’s gallery space is more confined, and gives an overview based on just ten artists and collectives. The resulting show feels more selective than its predecessors, but this exhibition displays an exciting and vibrant look at South Australia’s artists.

Diversity in themes and techniques

In 22 photo portraits, Carly Tarkari Dodd, a young Kaurna/Narungga and Ngarrindjeri artist, addresses head-on the offensive practice of categorising Aboriginality by skin colour.

Placed between the compelling photos are mirrored panels speaking back to the viewers with cruel racist text. The subjects of the portraits are overlaid with a signature Aboriginal iconography of dots, their faces showing a mix of emotions: from pride and optimism at a better future, to strength marred by weary endurance.

Carly Tarkari Dodd’s photographs address racism and pride, while Sandra Saunders looks at colonisation the museumification of Aboriginal culture. Sam Roberts/ACE Open

this photo cap doesn’t quite make sense

Senior Ngarrindjeri artist Sandra Saunders considers the destruction of wildlife from the recent bushfires in her meticulous oil painting, the Museum of Sorrow.

The impact of colonisation, climate change and environmental destruction have been her subjects in recent years in paintings produced in a naive, untutored style.

Here, Saunders has appropriated a European quasi-Vermeer style to speak back to colonialism’s litany of damage. Her painting of an entrance to a museum of natural history, populated by a small number of endangered animals, suggests the pressing issue of mammalian extinction and the museumification of Aboriginal culture.


Read more: Explainer: what is decolonisation?


A more spare aesthetic underpins Sundari Carmody’s and Kate Bohunnis’s sculptural installations. For Carmody, it is the creation of a precise architectural space for contemplation; for Bohunnis, the oppositional forces on her body from metal and latex are resolved in the rhythmic movement of a pendulum.

Emmaline Zanelli’s video explores her Nonna’s life in domestic and industrial workplaces.

Emmaline Zanelli’s video work looks at her Nonna’s life in domestic and industrial workplaces. Sam Roberts/ACE Open

The intergenerational legacy of memory is a conduit for shape-shifting images oscillating between realism and abstraction, drawing on the embrace of movement as the basis for a visual language from Italian futurisism.

The candy colours of Matt Huppatz’s trio of prints continue his investigation into the transgressive and liminal world of queer masculinity.

Matt Huppatz’s prints investigate queer masculinity, while Kate Bohunnis used her own body to create her sculpture work. Sam Roberts/ACE Open

Overlaid on each image of a nightclub scene is text: Lights and Music (Communicate), Lights and Music (Release), Lights and Music (Express). These allude to the affectionate language of a club scene oozing with sensory overload.

Experimentation runs through the exhibition, and writing from fine print magazine under editors Forester and Joanne Kitto adheres to this, their performative style of criticism and text becoming an exhibit itself.

Yusuf Ali Hayat invites the viewer to step through his perspex doors. Sam Roberts/ACE Open

Another work steeped in experimentation is Yusuf Ali Hayat’s interactive, interlocking perspex doors in Baab Al-Salaam, the name referencing a gate at Mecca. Each door is anchored in an Islamic geometry of five diamonds, and covered in a dichroic filter, altering visibility.


Read more: Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca


Hayat approaches his work from a migrant’s outsider perspective. In inviting audience members to pass through the doors, he explores the universality in his personal experience.

Tutti artists show an eclectic range of work, some drawing on found materials as in James Kurtze’s The Kooky Time Machine, while Aida Azin’s arresting street culture painting Toodles Galore is an in-your-face confrontation with racism, sexism and cultural imperialism.

The conundrum of the human condition

It is surprising, given the shift to globalism, there have been four narrowly focused survey exhibitions of contemporary South Australian artists over the last two decades. It seems there are more artists per capita in this state than elsewhere in the nation.

This may explain the intense scrutiny of contemporary practice in these shows, or it may reflect a geographical anxiety, but it differs from the accepted practice in Australia where survey exhibitions tend to be national rather than state-based.

Sundari Carmody’s In the Air sits in the front gallery of ACE Open. Sam Roberts/ACE Open

A few more mid-career and senior artists would have added depth, balance and a sense of comprehensive coverage to the exhibition. Nevertheless there is vibrancy, experimentation and risk, supported by a philosophy of decolonisation and transcultural ethics.

The exhibition reflects the lively breadth of practice and exploration of ideas in contemporary practice in South Australia. As the Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor reminded us, artists “try to find ways in which their ideas and art can explore the eternal conundrum of the human condition”.

In this moment of COVID, this reflection has been heightened by artists working more within their own radius of daily life.


If The Future Is To Be Worth Anything is at ACE Open, Adelaide, until December 12

Are these kangaroos Australia’s earliest oil paintings? – The Australian Financial Review

“These two paintings have been hanging in the Hunterian Museum for more than 200 years,” Ms Roff said.

“They are repeatedly labelled by the long-term curator as oils, ‘painted in New Holland from the life’ by John Lewin who was the first anatomically trained settler artist to work in Sydney. If he did in fact paint them they would be the earliest oil paintings made in Australia.”

Ms Roff said the kangaroos were consistent with Lewin’s style, including because of white shadings and “anglified” landscapes.

Lewin is known to have painted in watercolour until about 1813, but Roff thinks the paintings are earlier and has called for them to undergo scientific examination to establish their materials and links to Australia. The museum has an extensive collection of anatomical specimens, fossils, paintings and drawings.

Previous depictions of kangaroos were painted in London, based on animals kept in exotic collections. Hunterian Museum

The Stubbs kangaroo and a painting of a dingo, made after Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia, were the subject of a high-profile ownership battle in 2013. The National Gallery of Australia was blocked by the UK government from acquiring them in a $10 million sale.

The kangaroo helped guide the design of Australia’s earliest coat of arms, and is now part of Britain’s National Maritime Museum collection.

“The Hunterian is currently closed for refurbishments until late 2022,” Ms Roff said.

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“Given the way the Stubbs paintings were denied to Australia, it would be a fitting time to offer these two paintings for exhibition, perhaps tour, of Australia while their provenance is being investigated.”

The kangaroo by George Stubbs, subject of a high-profile ownership battle in 2013. 

A former curator of the Hunterian Museum, Caroline Grigson, has expressed doubt about the theory the works are by John Lewin or that they were painted “in situ” in Australia.

Dawn Kemp, director of museums of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, welcomed debate about the kangaroos.

‘’We are very interested in Sue’s research into the kangaroo paintings; it is always welcome to get greater understanding of objects in the RCS collections,” she said.

“The Hunterian Museum is currently closed, due a major redevelopment, and will reopen in late 2022 but we especially held back the paintings from going into store for Sue to assess them.”

What’s On NEAR ME

long water: fibre stories

Meyne Wyatt awarded 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize

Archibald Prize: Meyne Wyatt becomes first Indigenous artist to win Packing Room Prize as finalists announced – ABC News

Actor Meyne Wyatt has won the Archibald Prize’s Packing Room Prize for his self-portrait.

The West Australian-born, Sydney-based Wongutha-Tamatji man is the first Indigenous artist to win any of the Archibald’s categories in the prize’s 99-year history, and receives $1,500 for his work.

The announcement was made by head packer Brett Cuthbertson on Thursday morning at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Wyatt’s piece was one of 55 finalists unveiled in this year’s portraiture competition — one of the country’s oldest and richest art awards, with a prize pool of $100,000.

He said the painting started as a “COVID project”, but his mother Susan Wyatt, herself a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2003, encouraged him to enter.

“She was like, ‘You need to enter it into the Archibald’,” he said.

“I was just really surprised to be here — I get lucky enough to be a finalist,” he added.

Meyne Wyatt poses next to his 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize winning entry.(ABC News: Dee Jefferson)

The announcement kicks off ‘Archies season’, with concurrent exhibitions of the Wynne Prize (for landscape painting) and the Sulman Prize (for “subject painting, genre painting or mural project”).

Cuthbertson, who has made no secret of his preference for celebrity portraits since he took on the head packer role in 2018, told the ABC he was a bit worried when this year’s Archibald entries started rolling in — with a preponderance of self-portraits.

“I like to pick a famous face, and it’s getting harder and harder [each year] — particularly this year because I guess a lot of those famous faces weren’t available, or artists couldn’t get out to actually paint them,” Cuthbertson said.

Announcing the award, Cuthbertson said he had gone back on his previous stance against self-portraits.

Angus McDonald’s portrait of author, journalist, artist and academic Behrouz Boochani.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

“In previous interviews I’ve constantly said I’ll never pick a self-portrait. Well I’m full of it, because I’ve actually picked a self-portrait — but the difference is, this time the artist is not just an artist — he’s also a celebrity,” he said.

“I saw this young guy bring his work in, and I thought, ‘I know that guy’s face!’

“I just thought it was great. He’s having a crack, he’s never entered before, he hasn’t painted for 10 years, and it’s great.”

Wyatt’s work is the second self-portrait to win the Packing Room Prize in its 29-year history — the first was Sydney artist Kerrie Lester’s, in 1998.

Cuthbertson, who has worked at the Art Gallery of NSW for 39 years and holds 52 per cent of the Packing Room Prize vote, said there were more Archies entries than usual this year.

“It was a huge amount — obviously because a lot of people were sitting at home doing nothing — so they painted!” he said.

“There were a lot of first-timers this year.”

Yoshio Honjo’s portrait of chef and TV presenter Adam Liaw, entitled Adam with bream.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

The surge in productivity was compounded by an extension of the deadline from April until August, after the exhibition’s original opening date of May was postponed due to COVID-19.

Tianli Zu’s portrait of scientist and conservationist Tim Flannery, entitled Tim and kelp.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Cuthbertson said many of this year’s entries showed people wearing face masks, and many depicted firefighters and other key figures from the summer’s bushfires.

Unpacking in a pandemic

COVID-19 meant changes to ‘business as usual’ for the gallery’s packing staff: entries are usually received over a one-week period leading up to the deadline, but this year it was expanded to two weeks, to allow for fewer people in the loading dock and a more fiddly unpacking process.

Wendy Sharpe’s portrait of comedian and actor Magda Szubanski, entitled Magda Szubanski – comedy and tragedy.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Works are generally delivered by courier or the artists themselves — some travelling from Queensland or Victoria to hand-deliver their works.

“Usually, when it’s all happening in one week, you’ll have trucks arrive and there’ll be people on the dock unloading trucks and then people coming in — just too many people, all in close proximity,” Cuthbertson said.

Scott Marsh’s portrait of rapper, record label owner and writer Adam Briggs, entitled Salute of gentle frustration.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

“This year we had people stationed out [front] on the dock, getting people to sign in as they came in one-by-one. Everyone was masked, everyone wore gloves. We had the dock marked out with crosses so that if there was a line-up, people had to stand apart.”

Charlene Carrington’s portrait of artist Churchill Cann, entitled My dad, Churchill Cann.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Cuthbertson’s team had to wear gloves and masks not only while dealing with artists and couriers, but in order to unpack hundreds of works — including many from Victoria.

“At that stage they were going through a really bad time,” he said.

Guy Maestri portrait of journalist and presenter Jennifer Byrne, entitled JB reading.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Cuthbertson said the new process “worked like clockwork” in the end — but he missed the buzz that normally accompanied ‘deadline week’.

“You have so many artists in the packing room at one time, and they all get in there and it’s like a big family get-together or a party — it’s the buzz, you get a real high off all that,” he said.

What about the rest of the finalists?

This year’s Archibald exhibition has the strongest Indigenous representation — on and off the walls — since the prize’s inception, featuring portraits by Blak Douglas, Thea Anamara Perkins, Vincent Namatjira (highly commended in 2018, for his self-portrait) and Tiger Yaltangki.

Kaylene Whiskey’s self-portrait, entitled Dolly visits Indulkana.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Among the first-time Archibald finalists were Charlene Carrington, Kaylene Whiskey (who won the Sir John Sulman Prize in 2018) and Wyatt.

Vincent Namatjira’s self-portrait with Adam Goodes, entitled Stand strong for who you are.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

Indigenous talent was also reflected on the walls, with 10 portraits of Indigenous Australians — a record — including former AFL star Adam Goodes, rapper and writer Adam Briggs aka Briggs, Sydney elder Uncle Charles “Chicka” Madden, author Bruce Pascoe, and teen healer and activist Dujuan Hoosen, who in 2019 became the youngest person ever to address the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

Blak Douglas aka Adam Hill’s portrait of Dujuan Hoosen (subject of documentary In My Blood It Runs), entitled Writing in the sand.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

This year’s Archibald crop is also notable for its dearth of ‘celebrities’ or big-name actors, in favour of news figures like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and TV personalities including Adam Liaw and Annabel Crabb.

Jane Guthleben’s portrait of journalist and TV presenter Annabel Crabb, entitled Annabel, the baker.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)
John Ward Knox’s portrait of Jacinda Adern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, entitled Jacinda.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

The upside, however, is that this exhibition looks more representative of contemporary, everyday Australia itself than ever before.

Claus Stangl’s portrait of musician L-Fresh the Lion.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman exhibitions open to the public on September 26.

The art of lockdown

The number of coronavirus infections diagnosed every 24 hours in Victoria is now comfortably within double digits and has been decreasing daily, offering hope that Australia may soon regain the flattened curve that made us the envy of countries struggling with far higher rates of infection and death. The reduction in case numbers also shows that the Stage 4 lockdown in metropolitan Melbourne since August has been effective, despite the barrage of criticism directed at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Restrictions are set to ease but will remain in force with a moderation of severity until a return to ‘COVID normal’ in late November, assuming case numbers remain low.

Despite these restrictions and the horror of the pandemic, the rhythms of life in Melbourne have maintained their course, albeit with some adjustment. Artists figure prominently among those compelled to adapt to new constraints, and the need is more urgent than ever to support those who lack a devoted patron, institutional backing or a commercial outlet. Two recent video works by Camila Galaz and Laresa Kosloff, sponsored by a City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grant and Buxton Contemporary Light Source Commission, respectively, exemplify the extent to which such support can encourage creative inquiry in even the most adverse of circumstances. Working in a locked-down Melbourne, neither Galaz nor Kosloff have allowed restrictions on their movement to inhibit their artistic vision and have instead transformed constraint into a source of inspiration.

In Unwelcome Visitant, a 17-minute reflection on her experience of re-reading French author Albert Camus’s The Plague (1947), Galaz captures the solipsism and anxiety of isolation with an understated yet captivating intensity. Divided into three parts, the non-consecutive and apparently arbitrary numbering of which implies that these are fragments of a larger narrative, her rhythmic monologue unfolds with a trance-like momentum, keeping time with a comparably mesmerising musical accompaniment. Alternating between day and night as the camera cuts to views of the changing sky, Galaz standing or seated in a suburban garden, and a fleeting glimpse of cutlery sterilised in boiling water, words and tones become increasingly difficult to discern. An animated chickpea making laps of the frame marks time, in a reference to the similar use of peas by a character in the novel, mirroring the pacing of the narrator as she unburdens herself of her thoughts as well as the obsessive twists and turns of these philosophical reflections.

Intimate and confessional, with frequent asides addressed to curator and creative collaborator Sabrina Baker, Unwelcome Visitant seems at times to be an extract from a salvaged video diary, a private memoir recorded to distract from the artist’s loneliness. The notes and emails compiled in the ‘Correspondence’ section of the work’s online platform, however, imply that authenticity and artifice are not so easy to discern in this complex web of intertextual citations. We are led to believe that the apparent sincerity of the artist may be a performance, a persona selected as a fitting counterpoint for her immersion in the world of the novel, much like the carefully repaired 1940s suit which Galaz introduces in the opening scenes of the video and wears throughout.

Unwelcome Visitant recalls the works by Natalie Bookchin and Daniel McKewen commissioned for UQ Art Museum’s ‘Conflict in My Outlook_We Met Online’, covered in a previous post for this blog, which likewise blur the boundary between fact and fiction in narratives of paranoia, intrigue and conspiracy. These works by Galaz, Bookchin, McKewen and other artists included in ‘Conflict in My Outlook’ share several characteristics that suggest a mutual ‘lockdown aesthetic’. Their density and complexity reward repeated engagement in the privacy of the home and seem calculated to provide as many hours of engagement as possible, inviting viewers not only to watch and rewatch but to trace the artists’ sources of inspiration, meticulously recorded by Galaz in an extensive bibliography.

Laresa Kosloff’s Radical Acts invites similar definition and provokes many of the same emotions. While Galaz and McKewen, however, create highly detailed collages of reference and reflection that seem too organic and comprehensive to be deceitful, Kosloff can be more closely compared with Bookchin in her juxtaposition of images and messages that viewers know to be prejudiced or untrue. Composed entirely using samples of corporate stock footage available online, Radical Acts outlines a dizzyingly convoluted tangle of conspiracy and pseudoscience that touches on some of the leading psychoses of our time. Environmental degradation, precarious employment, civil disobedience, managerial schemes for increasing worker efficiency, and the neoliberal ideal of a world driven by conspicuous consumption all play their part in a narrative of distraction and deceit, the alarmist tone of the narrator’s voice and crescendo of the melodramatic score mimicking a political scare campaign.

These two new videos from locked-down Melbourne appear at first to be radically distinct in conception, one making a show of sincerity and self-reflexive transparency while the other indulges in brazen deceit and obscurantist theory. Yet both artists expose the extent to which fact and fiction can be difficult to separate completely, especially during times of crisis and heightened emotion. Galaz and Kosloff also imply that the only possible passage beyond this crisis, as Galaz realised when she first read The Plague in high school, making notes in red ink in the margins, lies in a ‘radical rethinking [of the] priorities of life’. Prejudice, greed and paranoia brought us here; cooperation, selflessness and a renewed confidence in our ability to work together will help us cross the threshold into a new world.

Dr Alex Burchmore, Publication Manager