The Archibald Prize was launched in 1921, after JF Archibald, the editor of political magazine The Bulletin, left a bequest for an annual award to be administered by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Archibald hoped to support portraiture and the arts community via a monetary prize awarded to a depiction of a man or woman working in the arts, letters, science or politics. Since then, it’s become one of the country’s most prestigious arts prizes, and its accompanying exhibition draws thousands of patrons to the AGNSW each year.
This year the Archibald celebrates its 100th birthday – it’s been awarded every year except 1964 and 1980 – and is marking the occasion with an exhibition of 100 key works tracing its history. Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize will use the portraits as a conduit to explore some of the controversies, important moments and identities, and societal changes that have occured over the past century. It will be arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, to tell the stories behind the prize.
“Since its inception, the Archibald Prize has attracted entries from both prominent and emerging artists in Australia and New Zealand, and celebrated figures from all walks of life, from famous faces to local heroes,” said Michael Brand, AGNSW director, in a statement.
“Archie 100 is an enthralling exploration of some of the key moments in the evolution of the prize, from 1921 to today, and an opportunity to reflect on our shared history and consider how we’ve changed over the course of a century.”
More than 6000 works were considered for the exhibition, sourced from the ANGSW’s own collection, as well libraries, galleries, museums and private collections in Australia and internationally. The gallery was unable to track many of the portraits shown in the prize to date, and thus put out a public appeal to find them.
As well as well-known faces such as Dame Edna Everage (aka Barry Humphries), Albert Namatjira and Archibald himself, there will be portraits of people whose names have been long forgotten.
“Each portrait selected for Archie 100 offers an exciting glimpse into a specific moment in time,” Natalie Wilson, exhibition curator and a curator of Australian and Pacific art at AGNSW, said in a statement. “Together, these works uncover changes in society in engaging ways, enabling people to experience how artistic styles and approaches to portraiture have changed over time.”
The show will run alongside the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes exhibition from June to September, and tickets will be valid for both. From November, the exhibition will travel to eight other venues across the country.
Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize will run from June 5 to September 26, 2021 at the Art Gallery of NSW. Tickets are now on sale here.