It was a sparkling winter morning when the Art Gallery of NSW revealed the 47 finalists for the Archibald Prize together with those for the Wynne and Sulman Prizes. There’s nothing new about any of this; the Wynne, established in 1897, for landscape, is Australia’s oldest art prize. The Sulman, for genre painting, was established in 1936 while the Archibald is in its 94th year. Not only the nation’s most prestigious and controversial portrait prize, the Archibald now carries prize money of $100,000. And there’s always the hope of another controversy.
The scale and openness of these competitions is staggering. A total of 2003 paintings were entered for the three prizes, all delivered over just 5 days, registered and subject to first round judging. A curator settles on the hanging scheme ready for the final judging all in the space of 14 days. No other gallery in the world opens its doors to unmediated submissions, by experts and amateurs alike, on this scale.
Since 1991, the first of various awards is the sort-of democratic Packing Room Prize of $1,500 decided by the staff who handle the paintings. This year that prize went to Bruno Jean Grasswill for Michael Caton, an appealing portrait of the popular actor. But historically the recipient of the Packing Room Prize doesn’t win the Archibald. Everyone has an opinion about the Archibald; its appeal for the public has never flagged. Whoever wins, the 2015 show doesn’t disappoint.
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