Emerging Talents Prevail in Australia’s Top Awards
By Grace Jefferd
The Art Gallery New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney announced winners for three of Australia’s most important painting prizes—the Archibald, Wynne, and Sulman Prizes—this past Friday, May 5. The Archibald Prize for portraiture selected multidisciplinary and textile artist Julia Gutman for her embroidered and appliquéd portrayal of the singer-songwriter Montaigne seated on the ground, Head in the sky, feet on the ground (2023). The Wynne Prize for best landscape painting of Australian scenery went to Zaachariaha Fielding for his fluid abstract painting of the movement and sounds in the rural Australian community of Mimili. The Sulman Prize for the best subject or genre painting went to Doris Bush Nungarrayi for her colorful depiction of Mamu (malevolent spirits) against a black background, Mamunya ngalyananyi (Monster coming) (2023).
As only the 11th woman to win the Archibald Prize, which was established in 1921, Gutman will receive AUD 100,000 (USD 67,800) in prize money. Gutman stated that she was “so grateful to be working at a time when young female voices are heard.” Head in the sky, feet on the ground is the first painting and embroidery work to have been selected and was a unanimous choice by the jury, made up of AGNSW’s board of trustees. At 29-years old, Gutman is one of the youngest to win the prestigious prize.
Fielding, a painter and the lead vocalist of the electronic-music duo Electric Fields, won the Wynne Prize, Australia’s oldest art prize, for Inma (2023) created with black-and-white acrylic paint poured over the canvas. His success comes amid reporting of recent scandals in the Aboriginal art field. Several artists who call the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands home and who have joined the APY Art Center Collective (APYACC), including Fielding, have had the authenticity of their work scrutinized after white staff were accused of interfering with several of the artists’ paintings. Although Fielding’s work Unlace (2022) is under investigation, so far Inma has not been called into question. Fielding did not directly address the ongoing controversy in his acceptance speech, although he did say in his speech that he’d witnessed “a lot of crazy” in the industry.
First-time Sulman winner Nungarrayi’s work has not been impacted by the media controversy, as the artist is not a part of APY ACC, and instead is a member of the Aboriginal-owned Papunya Tjupi art centre in Papunya. As only the second Indigenous winner of the Sulman Prize, the 81-year-old Nungarrayi painted the shape-shifting mythical monsters called Mamu. This year’s guest judge, Sydney artist Nell, expressed her excitement about Nungarrayi’s work, stating “I really love how each figure . . . has an individual character that is simultaneously scary and cheeky.”
Artworks by the finalists for the Archibald, Wynn, and Sulman prizes remain on view at the AGNSW through September 3. The Archibald finalists’ artworks will tour to six venues in Victoria and elsewhere in New South Wales through 2024.