The Winning Wynne and the Sorry Sulman

April 6, 2007 at 4:03 am (Uncategorized)

The Wynne Prize exhibition is a cracker this year. I loved a lot of the offerings, and I felt like it was the star of its own show this time, rather than just one of two homely bridesmaids flanking the bustling skirts of the beaming Archibald bride.

No, this year’s Wynne is a winner. Of course there are the usual shockers, so I’ll dispense with the worst offender first. Why oh why, please someone, tell me why, does Gloria Petyarre continue to get away with entering basically the exact same painting year in, year out? This time it’s called ‘Untitled (leaves),’ but it’s virtually identical to whatever she entered last year (I don’t know what that was called – ‘Untitled (trees),’ perhaps), which was, from memory, itself eerily reminiscent of her entry the year before (‘Untitled (branches),’ anyone?). I’ll give her a title: Repetitive Boredom.

But then there was Rae Bolotin’s ‘Green Peel’ sculpture installation. I so, so wanted to touch it. I stopped short of stroking it, but I desperately wanted to glide my hand over its Granny Smith contours. Good enough to eat. And it struck me as something that would really soar outside, rather than downstairs in a windowless room of the AGNSW. I personally see it taking in the cliff top breeze at the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition that runs from Bondi to Tamarama along the coast walk. It would just look smashing against those waves crashing.

But the real joy was the winning painting called ‘Winter nocturne IV.’ It shares its room with some of the better paintings on show, and when my eyes rested on it, before I knew it was the winner, I thought “Oh yes, that’s lovely.” As I walked over for a closer inspection, I saw that it was the winner. When I saw the name of the artist below, I cried out in surprise, pleasure, and recognition, and looked around this way and that for my erstwhile husband. The name, you see, was Philip Wolfhagen. This was Wednesday night, and on Sunday night, just three days earlier, I had seen another of his paintings for the first time. It was in strange circumstances. I got home from Gemma’s babyshower early Sunday evening, to find Llew sprawled on the couch watching a Gourmet Traveller DVD of chef Tetsuya Wakuda living it up on a GT jolly in Tasmania. Leo Schofield organised the trip, and I’d like to know how one gets to join that particular club… “work” my arse. Anyway, one of the things they did was visit I think it was Julian Wolfhagen, who makes what’s reported to be one of the world’s great honeys (leatherwood). Well, strictly speaking bees make honey, which I think is endlessly fantastic and fascinating, but you know what I mean. Then during a later segment, they visited a gallery in Hobart that had a current exhibit of brother Philip’s work. Llew and I both sat up and forward and paused the DVD. Then we played that section back again. Then we wrote the artist’s name down: Philip Wolfhagen. Unfortunately, the fact of his Wynne win is not great news for us. It means he’s definitely beyond us, which is terribly sad. But it’s great news for him, and it’s great to see an artist you immediately admire do so well.

Then it was on to the Sulman. I can’t stand it. I just don’t think it’s very good. Sorry, let me rephrase that: it’s not very good. And the winner, as Llew so astutely put it, “is a one second joke.” It’s called ‘The Axis of Elvis,’ by David Disher, and it’s not very clever or very subversive or very interesting at all. The less said about the Sulman the better, except for the fact that Nicholas Harding should have won with his delightful painting ‘Beach life (blue chair and figure)’. I was standing at a weird angle when it first came into view, and it looked like an abstract to me, with no discernible composition of particular objects. I moved further away and then simply glanced back on my way to look at another painting. I actually gasped. Suddenly the beach life, the blue chair, and the figure all became wonderfully clear. I have admired Harding’s Archibald entries for the last two years. He’s not in this year’s, but now I am starting to understand it’s not just his portraiture I particularly enjoy, it’s his paintings. I like them a lot, and he would have gotten my vote over the obvious and overstated ‘Axis of Elvis’ any day.

Outside it’s a good day for the gallery, if you’re in Sydney and short of things to do on this rainy Good Friday…Happy Easter, everyone.

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