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Monday, 26 December  2005  Archibald Prize

The Archibald Prize is one of Australia's best-known art awards. Each year, it's awarded to the best portrait of a well-known person.

EDMUND CAPON: We don't have to make it a circus. It is a circus. It's bred with circus life.

JASON BENJAMIN: It's like a brawl outside the pub - everyone runs out to have a bit of a look.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: The founder of the 'Bulletin' magazine, Jules Francois Archibald, left money in his will for an annual portrait prize which the Gallery of NSW started in 1921.

The initial rules said that the artist had to live in Australia, the subject was to be distinguished and the portrait painted from life, not from a photograph.

In the 84 years it's been running, the Archibald Prize has been anything but dull. During its first 50 years, it faced legal challenges over whether a painting was a caricature or a portrait. Paintings were criticised because the subject wasn't famous enough. Art students, including a much younger John Olsen, protested outside the gallery over a conservative artist who'd won 14 times. In 1975, the winner was stripped of his prize when it was revealed he'd painted solely from a photograph.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: In the past eight decades, there's been one significant rule change - from 1995, artists could use photographs as a reference tool.

Some have welcomed the change, while others see it as a corruption of the prize.

Jason Benjamin is a finalist this year with his portrait of actor Bill Hunter.

JASON BENJAMIN: I think the whole thing is kind of silly. I don't know how else to put it. I mean, it's kind of tiresome. To paint it from life - it's semantics - the use of photography has been used as an aide memoire since - Monet used photographs, you know, in 1880.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: The director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Edmund Capon, sees it the same way.

EDMUND CAPON: What has not changed is that you cannot do it exclusively from a photograph, so you've got to actually paint the person or record the person, know the person and work with the person.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: 14 years ago, the Art Gallery started the Packing Room Prize, with the storemen who handle the entries choosing the painting they like the most.

The critics hate it. They say it makes the Archibald Prize a parody by trying to make it egalitarian. Jason Benjamin was this year's winner of the Packing Room Prize.

JASON BENJAMIN: It just throws another thing in the mix that's a bit of fun as well. I think it just adds to the kind of circus element - it's like the opening act.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: The other relatively new Archibald event, which also causes heart palpitations amongst critics, is the People's Choice Award.

Edmund Capon believes everyone should be able to have an opinion and it makes the Archibald a more attractive exhibition. But he does concede the art-going public may not always appreciate the complexity of some pieces.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: But what does the future hold for Australia's premier art prize? Critics would like to see it updated so it attracts more contemporary artists. But from the ranks of those who enter and embrace the prize, there's a feeling it's already updating itself.

JASON BENJAMIN: What does up to date mean anymore, seriously? What is post-modern anyway? I'm sorry to answer a question with a question. But it is, you know, we could have 'Reality Archibald' - that'd be fun. You know what I mean, follow the artists around and put them all in a house and watch them paint for the prize.

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English Bites - Archibald Prize
story notes

A portrait is a painting of a person, often a personís face. This is a portrait of Alexander Downer.

Initial means first or at the beginning.

Here said is the past tense of the irregular verb say. Follow the link to listen to some examples.
more information: say

The subject of a painting is the person or object represented in it. In this case, the subject is the person who has been painted.

Distinguished means important and respected.

painted from life, not from a photograph
This means that the painter uses the actual person as the model for the painting and not a photograph of them.

A caricature is picture of a person that exaggerate some of their features. Caricatures are mostly used in cartoons. Some people called this painting by William Dobbell of Joshua Smith a caricature and not a portrait.

Here won is the past participle of the irregular verb win.
more information: win

stripped of his prize
To be stripped of his prize means that the prize was taken away from him.

solely from a photograph
using only a photograph


use photographs as a reference tool
This means that the artists can can use photographs to check that their paintings are correct.

To welcome something means to be pleased about and accept it.

To corrupt something means to destroy the honesty or integrity of it.

exclusively from a photograph
using only a photograph

Storemen are people who work in the storeroom, where things are stored or kept.

Critics are judges, people who judge and evaluate art. Critics are usually known as experts in their field - music, painting, film and so on.

heart palpitations
She means they donít like it and it makes them very worried.

People's Choice Award
Thatís where the public choose the paintings they like.

What words mean 'without using anything else'?

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