ART OF THE MATTER

Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes: The Centripetal force of Australian Art Scene

By Indranil Halder

One of Australia’s longest-standing and most prestigious art prize is celebrating its 100year anniversary. Artists from across Australia made 938 entries and 52 were selected. According, to the Art Gallery of NSW, “it is the first time, there is gender parity for artists selected as Archibald finalists: 26 women and 26 men. It is also the first time there have been more works by women than men in the combined Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes exhibition.” The Art Gallery strongly display its ethos of the Archibald Prize, to represent the changing face of Australia. The journey of Archibald Prizes started in 1921. Since then, it has recognised the best portrait of a man or woman in art, literature, politics and others. In 2021, according to The Sydney Morning Herald,’Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s Garak – Night Sky was named winner of the Wynne Prize for landscape painting and Georgia Spain’s Getting Down or Falling Up winner of the Sulman Prize for subject painting, genre painting, or mural project.’ The winner for centenary year of the Archibald, was a portrait by Peter Wegner of 100-year-old artist Guy Warren. Guy, himself was an Archibald winner in 1985. And the winner of Packing Room Prize was Katherine Longhurst. To celebrate this monumental event, ANZ Bank organised an exclusive after hour preview and dinner for its guest.

ANZ Bank and 2021 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Dinner Invitation:

George Kinnear, a young Scottish entrepreneur, establish the first branch of the Bank of Australasia in 1835. In 1951, The Bank of Australasia joined with Union Bank of Australia to form ANZ Bank. In 1970 with English, Scottish and Australian Bank to become Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited. Over the past 180 years ANZ has grown in connectivity between Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific. I remember ANZ Grindlays Bank presence in Kolkata, India during my teenage years. In 1994, when I first arrived in Australia, ANZ Bank in Wollongong provided me with the best of banking facilities.

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While in 1999, I visited the Art Gallery of NSW and fell in love with the concept of VisAsia, a permanent section of the art gallery to celebrate and learn about Asian cultures. And the Australian Institute of Asian Culture and Visual Arts, were established too. To me, it was great step forward to recognition Australia’s growing involvement with the cultures of Asia. This year, Art Gallery of NSW is also celebrating 150th anniversary with a commitment ‘to making art a vital part of everyday life.’ I am delighted, that, I accepted my invitation from ANZ Bank to attend after hour preview and dinner.

My experience:

Being a first-generation migrant who adore art from teenage years, attending events at the Art Gallery of NSW is like a pilgrimage. In Kolkata, India, I often attending Kolkata’s Government College of Art & Craft exhibitions with my mother, visited Chitrakut Gallery with friends and enjoyed exhibition opening at the Academy of Fine Arts in the company of Lady Ranu Mukerjee (widow of Indian Steel tycoon, Sir B N Mookerjee).

In Sydney, it is the Art Gallery of NSW that has captured my imagination for a very long time. It is where Australian art scene has blossomed and celebrated local and Indian understanding of art. Whether it be the opening of VisAsia(only Asian section ) , the Goddess Exhibition and Durga pujo (one and only) celebration or Rolls Royce exhibition of Sudarshan Shetty (first Indian artist to be commissioned for the Rolls-Royce), I have been attend them all to improve my understanding of what art means for Australia. Just like attending Asian art, I have been attending the exhibitions of Archibald Prize winners for many years both as invitee of ANZ Bank and Art Gallery of NSW. I was happy to learn that a collection of the Archibald Prize winning paintings will travel to eight locations throughout Australia too.

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2021 it is very special year. It is the centenary celebration of Archibald Prize. What I love about my invitation is the collaboration that continued between ANZ Bank and Art Gallery of NSW. A collaborative partnership that is important for the survival and promotion of art in Australia especially for new migrant like myself, to access the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize 2021 exhibition, and ‘Archie 100’ (100 artworks carefully selected from every decade of the Archibald Prize) and understand the impact of art in Land DownUnder.

For me, Archie 100 exhibition is undeniably the most significant selection of paintings to look at. Art Gallery of NSW had painstaking selected paintings from every decade of the Archibald Prize. And the collection was immaculate. It reflected on the ever changing lifespan of the prestigious prize, the changing face of Australia and the celebration of Australia as our art loving nation. The exhibition was a magical reflection of a diversity of artists, their styles and subjects.

Each and every paintings displayed, had a deeper story with a sharp focus on the subject matter. The application of brush strokes and colours explored the reality of the subject.

My favourite portrait was of Jules François Archibald (the founder of the prestigious prize). He was born in Geelong, Victoria and co-owned weekly paper The Bulletin.

The rich history of this particular art prize was collectively presented by distinguished Art Gallery of NSW Director, Dr Michael Brand. Dr Brand initiated a great discussion with artists Katherine Longhurst (who painted the portrait of singer Kate Cebrano), singer herself to reflect on Kate Cebrano’s portrait. Throughout the evening, I had an exclusive chance to look at many years of the famed Archibald Prize paintings too. I took my time to wander through the exhibition, while enjoying canapes and Australian sparkling(a homegrown alternative to champagne). With few sips of sparkling, I quickly realisation that Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize has become the centripetal force of Australian art scene.

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Australia has certainly become a country blessed with gifted and talented painters and they all represent an idea. The idea of what is possible to create with respect to time , space and characters. As an artist in a country that was once declared Terra Nullius. I also ask myself, has Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes achieve the same goal of taking art to the mass just like celebration of art during Durga Pujo festival in West Bengal, India ?

Not quite.

Durga Puja is an event that resembles a carnival with jaw-dropping public art installations. Art and imagination during the Durga Puja celebration turns state of West Bengal into an art lovers paradise to enjoy masterpieces. The city of Kolkata is transformed into a huge public art gallery with beautiful idols of the goddess, pandals( temporary structure set up to usually venerate the god ), live music sessions, and cultural programmes.

Today, Australia is an amazing multicultural country where art is fostered in every section of the community and the 100th Anniversary of the Archibald speaks a volume of the development of Australian art scene. It would be my wish to see more actions been taken to inspire the mass including the migrant population. The annual exhibition of Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes surely celebrates Australian art scene with centripetal force but we also need is innovative strategies for celebration by mass like Durga Pujo public art installations.