Thursday, April 15, 2010

Booby prizes

The current Wynne Prize/Sam Leach controversy is remarkable for being a near-identical re-run of the 2004 Archibald Prize (both administered by the Art Gallery of NSW) legal challenge – big-mouthed boomer artist challenges talented, 37 y.o. Xer (Craig Ruddy, in the latter case).

Eminent” Australian landscape artist Tim Storrier* – who likes a good Chesterfield armchair pose – is the most likely force behind the oh-so-boomer gesture of the email that “began landing in arts journalists’ inboxes” on Tuesday afternoon (13/4) – such precision timing and targeting, only matched by the level of its gutless anonymity (I’m presuming). Hint to Tim: if you’re so “eminent”, then maybe you don’t need to get your hands quite so dirty. Even if Storrier wasn’t behind the email, his on-the-record opinion that Leach’s prize-winning painting is “a flicker of that rather odious post-modernist practice of appropriation, which essentially is theft” is laughable. Apart from accusing Leach of a criminal act, he implies – rather “odiously”, surely – that the Wynne Prize judges are woefully ignorant of Dutch old masters and/or the Australian landscape. In contrast, Leach at least had the professionalism to be “quite confident that [the judges] would recognise the painting as being from that particular period” (penultimate URL), as well as (presumably) that the landscape was dubiously “Australian”.

I’m sure Leach now regrets entering the Wynne Prize – its modest $25,000 purse seems inverse to the Everest of vitriol heaped against him. Patrick White had the right idea about Australian prizes – not worth the bother of entering, or declining them if he was involuntarily entered. The National Gallery of Victoria, meanwhile, perhaps having read my 2006 blog post, has belatedly decided that it was “not in the business of promoting and awarding prizes”, which meant rejecting outright a $400,000 bequest to establish an award for a painting by an Australian artist “in sympathy with the work of E. Phillips Fox”.

* Storrier has never won the Wynne Prize

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