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Review: Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes

Wynne Prize shines as Sulman disappoints.

This year, the Archibald Prize celebrated its centenary. Peter Wegner claimed the landmark acclamation with his portrait of Guy Warren, a painter who, coincidentally, celebrated his own centenary this year. It was not Wegner’s first time painting a centenarian, but the painting is certainly an understandable winner with the subtle colourations highlighting skin tonalities and a vivid pink jumper framing the dignified poise of his stance. Nevertheless, the Archibald was not short of contestants whose victory would have been equally worthy. Even some which seemed undeserving to even be considered finalists failed to detract too severely from the exhibition’s overall quality.

Seven-time Archibald finalist Nick Stathopoulos returned with a portrait of Tane Andrews, likely to be popular considering its inherent artistic technicalities and photographic realism, each detail minutely tuned and transfixing the audience on the awkward shyness of Andrews’ pose. William Mackinnon too (although an abstractionist rather than veering towards realism) presented his work, Dark dad / extremis, which certainly stood out, especially when considering the washed translucency of his paint in comparison to the development of others, such as Jun Chen’s Artist – Joe Furlonger, whose paint literally bulges off the canvas in small coagulated clumps. These portraits were among a dozen that are guaranteed to cause divided opinions in the voting for the People’s Choice Award (which is to be announced towards the end of the exhibition).

The exhibition begins with the Sulman Prize. Of the exhibitors this year, few works seemed deserving of the prize (or even of the distinction as a finalist) especially when considering that 546 entries were submitted. Although of publicly mundane stature, the Wynne Prize certainly should not be seen with such low regard. For the last several years in particular, the Wynne Prize has included a large portion of Indigenous works as finalists, and this year Nyapanyapa Yunupingu secured the prize with Garak – night sky. The work is impressive, but it seems almost impossible to have selected a singular victor for the prize this year, with several works huge in scale and undertaking, with exquisitely refined technical details creating an atmosphere and vision rather than a simple image or picture. Not only did the Wynne outshine both the Archibald and Sulman Prizes, but it did not even include works which were certainly deserving of a position as a finalist, such as Peter Gardiner’s Monaro nocturne (standard stoppages), exhibited at the S. H. Ervin.

The quality of the Wynne Prize certainly counteracted the overall disappointment of the Sulman Prize. A multitude of Wynne works were simply explosions of colour and so visually powerful that those which proved worse (especially in the unavoidable comparison that occurs in an exhibition curated on the premise of a ‘competition’) were so diminished in splendour that they seemed almost irrelevant in light of the exhibition as a whole.  

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes are being exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW until September 26. The Salon Des Refuses is exhibiting until August 15 at the S. H. Ervin Gallery