Guest Post: Wally Dali- Archibald Prize predictions

The appearance of an official portrait of King Charles (above) has jogged my memory that it’s the time of year in which the finalists, and then winner, of the Archibald Prize for Portraiture are decorated and handed down to the Australian public. It coincides with a lot of other autumnal events where the apparent apexes of our globally homogenous culture are coronated.

At the Oscars and Eurovision alike, we can see how the arts elite operate in the space where performance and polemic overlap. A showcase is made for transgression, such as an Irish girl presenting entry-level satanism, or the otherwise homely Emma Stone in Poor Things, a widescreen waifu fantasy of a child brain-transplanted into a sex doll. In contrast to this officially endorsed “art”, the places where the punters vote with their money- the box office and the phone-in vote- reliably honour the truly brave chancers who gamble on digging deep and presenting plain beauty (Eden Golan singing for Israel), or genuine satire subverting the zeitgeist (American Fiction, written and directed by Cord Jefferson).

So we receive the values of the Arts Elite, embodied by their chosen champions, and enacted in their works. Just as their heroes are homogenously xenophiliacs, their works are predictably showy, sugary, sexual and shallow. At the most extreme times- say, wars abroad and recession and race riots at home- the acquisitions are at their ugliest. This is probably because in hard times, when our political leaders suit up and solemnly sell us the unavoidable hardships of reality, they understandably want to distance themselves from the millions pissed away by Creative Australia, the Premiers Prize For Literature, etc, etc, etc- and the roster of approved artists, ticks on the teat of the state, dig deeper into an affected identity of counterculture, with all the grime and obscenity which that requires. A cheap and ugly artwork suits both the maker and the buyer, and it leaves us unlucky passive punters holding the cheap and ugly baby.

The Archibald has long ago abandoned its charter to chase clicks and cliques. Painters are required to be Australian, but are often offshore and illegal to boot; their subjects are required to be Australian, but the trustees are again seduced by border-bouncers; subjects are required to be distinguished in Arts and Letters, but are often fledglings, adolescents, undergraduates, unpublished, or wastrels; paintings are required to be taken from life studies, but we see the obvious i.d. of photography everywhere; and the paintings are meant to be, well, paintings, yet the dry doodlings of drawing abound. Not to mention constant collage, print, and my personal hate, writing outright.

But aside from a tenacious thread of genuine journeyman artists which fight their way into the shortlist, the main caste list of the Archibalds is curiously recurrent and self-referential. Artists feature year after year, ploughing their marketable mannerisms despite their subjects changing age, sex, field and fame- subjects re-appear under different brushes, and are noted as Wonderful Sitters. And because in Australia we Love A Winner, winners abound- Academy Award winners, Olympic Gold Medal winners, ARIA winners, Miles Franklin winners. A “pecuniary interest” register would be very interesting, because I’d love to see the full list of government grants and gifts which have floated the careers of so many of these actors, directors, artists, writers, and activists.

We can also see that the favoured field of ideas which these symbiotic artists and art types prefer is synonymous with the concerns of the Legacy Media. To be unkind but brief, it can be described as Global Gay Race Communism. Internationalism good- nationalism bad. Licentiousness good- chastity bad. Swarthy types good- Europeans, Jews, and Asians bad. Socialism good- Libertarianism bad. And so the Guardian largely overlaps with the Grammys, Eurovision looks a lot like AFL Pride Round, the AHRC Human Rights Award finalists rotate through The Project, the Archibalds chime in with NAIDOC, the Logie speeches sound like a sit-in at a sandstone university.

There is a week between the unveiling of the Archibald Prize finalists and Packing Room Prize, and the announcement of the winner. It’s now a week before that first finalists announcement. I’d like to invoke a version of a guessing game which a bunch of our friends played when Game Of Thrones was still live but far past jumping the shark- we’d sketch out predictions of the plot, which characters would be slammed into each other, what tragedies or brutalities would befoul them, and be surprised how often they would come to be fulfilled. So, what hideous hides might we see at the AGNSW this June?

To muddle around a few themes for first instance, among the officially endorsed crises which currently plague our nation are racism, violence against women and children, climate change and homelessness. The approved demographics at the top of the totem pole right now are muslims, transvestite they-women and Aborigines. The style in ascendancy, and this is a decadal trend, is abrasive faux-naivety.

So, Wally’s prediction for an Archibald entry-

Britanny Higgins, portrayed as an unlined and virginally soft Gemima doll, Embraced and lifted by Svengali Sharaz (Big Ted), blessed by the telly magic of studio lighting and rising above the trashed Play School floor of politics. In crayon.

…if any Cat has access to type that into an AI image generator, I would be much obliged!

(Logging into the AGNSW website in preparation, and being obliged to click through an “acknowledgement of Country” checkbox first, I’m prompted to make another minor punt- I predict that all entries and artists will carry the byline “Painted on Ngambri Country at Kamberri/Canberra, ACT” from now on.)

In the meantime, I’ll re-read E.M. Forster’s good essay “On Not Looking At Pictures”, from the Arbinger Harvest paperback and thereby reconcile myself to not being able to disconnect emotion and association from dry analysis of my main interest- the craft practice and magic of figurative illusion- and get ready to hack out my long-form pic-by-pic digest. Please, comment below, I’d love to hear your commentary on the state of the arts, and your predictions too!

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May 19, 2024 12:42 pm

I ceased going toAustralian galleries when they became dominated by aboriginal dot paintings. These were apparently ‘invented’ in 1971 by one Geoffrey Bardon, as a means to amuse aboriginal children and engage them in school work. In my opinion, they have outlived their usefulness.

May 19, 2024 2:41 pm

That sounds like quite the imaginative piece! The imagery seems to blend elements of innocence, manipulation, protection, and the harsh realities of politics. The juxtaposition of Britanny Higgins portrayed as a soft Gemima doll, lifted by Big Ted (Svengali Sharaz), and illuminated by studio lighting against the backdrop of a trashed Play School floor is vivid and thought-provoking.
In crayon, the colors might be bold and childlike, adding an interesting layer to the complexity of the subject matter. The use of crayon could also enhance the innocence and nostalgia evoked by the imagery of Play School, while simultaneously highlighting the crude simplicity of the political landscape.
Overall, such a painting could serve as a striking commentary on the intersection of politics, power dynamics, media influence, and personal agency.

May 19, 2024 5:09 pm

A great idea becomes a movement, transforms into a business and ends up as a racket.
But he didn’t mention “gaming”. Find the criteria and create the art. Unis, indirectly, teach this.

Last edited 1 month ago by Johnjjj
May 20, 2024 8:44 am
May 20, 2024 8:54 am

Whatever the winner is, there’s a 99% chance it will be godawful rubbish, such is the inevitable decline of the yartz.

As for American Fiction, I watched it about a month ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, even if some of the subplots are a bit pedestrian. Hollyweirdos and yartz luvvies cop an absolute pasting.

May 20, 2024 10:13 am

I didn’t quite get to the end before St Brittle-knees countenance swam into view as a subject sure to win.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
May 20, 2024 10:39 am

The National Galley is getting stick this week, after hanging a portrait on their august walls. See if you can work out who it is:

comment image

Wally Dalí
Wally Dalí
May 20, 2024 7:37 pm

Well, it’s Vincent Namatjira, past winner- that’s who it is.
I know he’s bumbling around the likeness of some other person, but only as a vehicle for his own self-promotion.
Unwritten Rule of Modern Aaaart: the subject is not important, it’s only the artist who is important.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
May 21, 2024 8:07 am

Gina is objecting to the two paintings that the National Gallery is showing, and has asked them to be taken down. The other painting is even worse.

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