What The Heck Is The Archibald?

Sydney’s New South Wales Art Gallery hosts the Archibald Prize every year, and it has been the nation’s most prestigious art competition since 1921. However, the prize has always courted controversy. 

The Archibald Prize for portrait painting highlights figures from all walks of life, from famous faces to local heroes.  

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In today’s episode of THIS ARVO IN SYDNEY, host Sacha Barbour Gatt spoke to Anne Ryan, the curator for Australian Art Gallery NSW, to find out why it has been so controversial and why it feels like every year it attracts headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

Ms Ryan says the Archibald Prize is an important prize that is open to anybody, meaning participants who are not professional artists can join the competition. 

It’s judged in the flesh, which is really rare for art pods. So every single work gets judged as it is, with its size and its surface and everything about it really easy to see,”

Ms Ryan said.

She says that every year, there are some famous people and other fresh faces who haven’t appeared in public for the first time. 

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Last year, Sydney-based Aboriginal Australian artist and musician Black Douglas won the Archibald Prize.  

His synthetic polymer paint on linen called ‘Moby Dickens’ depicted Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens standing in the rising muddied water with two leaking buckets when floods hit northern NSW in early 2022. 

The rising muddied waters are a symbol of the artist’s position within the art world – trepidatious, unchartered and ominous,”

Mr Douglas said. 

Speaking of why artworks and the Archibald Prize have sparked controversy, Ms Ryan says that the Archibald offers the opportunity for people to have an opinion, “and not everyone’s going to agree all the time. And that’s what keeps it exciting”. 

But the thing that’s really fun for us is that conversation that it sparks about, about art with a really broad audience, and that’s something that we really want to do here,”

she added.

Hosted by Sacha Barbour, This Arvo in Sydney is a 10 to 12 minute daily news podcast made just for Sydney! Listen now on the Listnr app.