Portrait prize fever is hotting up for 2010, but according to early reviews, the finalists for this year’s Archibald Prize are nothing to get excited about. Following the announcement of the Packing Room Prize on Wednesday, the Sydney Morning Herald’s John McDonald and The Australian’s Christopher Allen lamented the lack of quality among this year’s offerings. Head packer Steve Peters’ pick, a black and white portrait of rock historian Glenn A. Baker by Sydney artist, Nasifa, is an example, they say, of the oversized, photo-realistic pieces that seem to dominate the selection to year, and McDonald points out “‘bigger’ does not necessarily mean ‘better'”.
That said, there are a few artistic gems that stand out as early favorites. Alexander McKenzie’s Andrew Upton is rowing a boat through shallow, rocky water, a cheeky grin and caricature-sized nose on his face. A wry depiction of the STC’s co-director, who along with wife, St. Cate, has enjoyed sensational success since taking the helm.
Nigel Milsom’s Adam Cullen (bird as prophet) dresses the renowned enfant terrible in black hooded robes, a black bird perched on his hand.
But who will win? Allen suggests that using the judges’ (apparent) criteria – size, publicity potential, and artistic merit (a bonus) – the obvious answer is Craig Ruddy’s The prince of darkness – Warwick Thornton. I tend to agree: his 2004 winning portrait of David Gulpilill had similar merits, as did last year’s winner, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu by Guy Maestri – note the appeal of an Indigenous subject. And after Thornton’s success with Samson & Delilah last year, perhaps he has the celebrity factor to snag the People’s Choice Prize.
The finalists can be viewed now on the Archibald Prize 2010 website, and will be on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 27 March – 30 May.