When the entries were unpacked for this year’s Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW, one staffer’s response to the eventual winner – John Beard’s portrait of artist and former trustee, Janet Laurence – was: “This one should win the suck prize!”
Strictly speaking, Laurence has not been a trustee for the past two years, but it seems this group of once-in-a-year art experts like to look after their own. The 2007 hang also includes Wang Xu’s portrait of another former trustee, Dr John Yu, and his partner George Soutter. More worrisome was a portrait of current trustee, artist Imants Tillers. This follows on from last year’s prize that included a portrait of the other serving artist trustee, Lindy Lee.
Apparently the phrase “conflict of interest” is unknown to the trustees, who are largely drawn from the business community. More precisely, it suggests they do not apply the same professional standards to their AGNSW duties as they do to their day jobs. They seem to believe that being a trustee is a bit of fun, and they need not take the Prize too seriously.
This provides one explanation for the poor standard this year. One usually encounters a range of views about the Archibald but this time the chorus of condemnation is unanimous.
John Beard’s winning portrait was a safe option (“boring” in the opinion of The Australian). The gossip has it that 2007 represents a triumph for the dinner party circuit rather than art, because both artist and subject are networkers of uncommon dedication. One may, of course, put this down to spite and envy on behalf of those who never made it onto the dinner invitation lists. “Go to all the parties,” was Andy Warhol’s advice to emerging artists. You might just meet a trustee.