Sunday, May 07, 2006

Back From Sydney / Archibald Prize

[News] [Personal] [Art]

Hello, devoted reader-monkeys! Cease committing random criminal acts; I'm back from Sydney with new Dust and/or Words to entertain you and keep you off the streets of the 'hood.

In fact, there's so much Sydney-style goodness that I'm going to break my musings up into several posts, to be delivered over the next few days. I'm starting today with the Archibald Prize exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery. The purpose of our visit to Sydney was to eyeball some fine art before the exhibition closed. Despite the intercession of ice-cream sellers and the Sydney taxi system, we were successful in this endeavour, and managed to scope out this year's menagerie in good order.

Those who follow such things will know that The Paul Juraszek Monolith by artist Mark Wills was the winner this year; a controversial choice as the work does not fall within the standard definitions of portraiture. It was good and all - but it's derived from the Marcus Gheerarts etching The Allegory of Iconoclasm, and in this case I felt that the direct lifting from classical sources wasn't sufficiently justified to make it genius. Follow the links and judge for yourself.

My personal favourite from the exhibition was probably this portrait by John Beard, depicting Ken Unsworth. It's a physically large and imposing work, and close up seems a little like a mixture of pointilism and impressionism; it's very emotionally powerful, and is both simple and elegant.

We also took a wonder through the sister exhibition at the gallery, being a retrospective of self-portraiture from the Rennaissance to the present day. I was particularly impressed with Elisabet-Louise Vigee-Lebrun's Self-Portrait In A Straw Hat (painted circa 1782, and appearing at the top of this post). The digital version here doesn't do it justice - as with much good art, particularly old art, the fantastic dyes and brushwork doesn't translate well in an electronic medium.

While exploring the exhibitions, my girlfriend and I had the extreme good fortune to bump into the wonderfully talented artists Nick Stathopoulos and Shaun Tan. I think Nick had some kind of mad plan to use a time machine to break the fingers of Sir Joshua Reynolds at age 25; details were sketchy - I wish him the best of luck in his evil scheme.

Both exhibitions were a little crowded for my tastes; the Archibalds are massively popular, and there's a bit of a sense of the cattle being herded through at the maximum velocity possible. It was all but impossible to get a good look at some of the works that were hung near the winner, due to the huge crowd gawking at the Monolith and scrutinising the wealth of small detail in it.

Still, a good time was had by the both of us. Of course, just like every time we go down, we found a much better exhibition on at the Museum of Contemporary Art - but that may have to be the subject of another post.

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