Archibald Prize at Tarrawarra

0 Comments 05 August 2011

Hidden deep in the hills of the Yarra Valley is the small wonder of Tarrawarra winery and gallery. From some angles it looks like an
experimental rocket base, from others a secret laboratory, but the view from inside is so spectacular you can easily believe you’re at a charming winery. If it didn’t get as much attention and advertising as it currently does, you would never think there was anything there – certainly not the winners of the esteemed Archibald Prize competition.

The long drive, steep walk from the car park and flocks of visitors might, at first, put you off, but this exhibition is still worth seeing. For those who don’t know, The Archibald Prize is an Australia-wide competition started on the death-bed of Jules François Archibald, whose lifetime dream was to get as many young artists into the public eye as possible. It is the oldest and most sought-after art project in the country, and the finalists are always shown somewhere superior, like Tarrawarra.

I can say right now that the artworks in this exhibition are some of the best pieces I’ve ever seen. They are stunning. The range of styles is so vast that it stretches right from Renaissance to contemporary; all of them wonderful in their own quirky way. I don’t even particularly like portraits (which is one of the conditions of the competition – they all have to be portraits of famous or well-known people) but these were exquisite. Some were created with photo-like accuracy while others were extremely abstract. For example, the winning portrait up close looks like the victim of a paintball fight but, from a distance, the whole piece comes together in perfect and beautiful harmony. The blobs and streaks all form a majestically clear view of Margaret Olley’s face.

All of the portraits were amazing but with such a wide variety, some appealed more than others. Some of them didn’t make sense until you leaned over the barrier to get a glimpse of the information plaque and see the logic behind it. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of great artworks out there not meant to be explained (the Mona Lisa is my favorite example) but some works in the Archibald were dying to be understood but couldn’t be without further information. The self portrait of Rodney Pople being beheaded by his wife in front of his children is a bit disturbing until you read that it is based on a 16th century painting by Caravaggio. Important explanations like these were a bit hard to see in such a busy viewing environment.

The tickets may be hard to come by, the crowds may be off-putting, but ladies and gentlemen, this is the best Australian art exhibition you are going to see in ages, I guarantee it.

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