Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery has been hosting a very exciting exhibition calendar for almost a decade now. Gallery Director Leigh Summers tells us about the prestigious Archibald Prize exhibition this month.
> Coffs Harbour is privileged to be hosting The Archibald Prize in October. What makes this year’s exhibition so special?
The Archibald is touring Australia and it is on exhibition at the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery for 23 days. We booked it nearly 4 years ago, and at last our moment in the sun has arrived!
The Archibald is perhaps Australia’s best known portraiture prize, outside of the Moran. It’s the Archibald that has the splash and dash, the celebrities and the controversy behind it – especially this year.
By that I’m referring to, of course, the very controversial winner, Sam Leach, who won both the Archibald and the Wynne Prize, which is the landscape prize that runs at the same time. Sam won both with two very fine paintings, although the second has been accused of plagiarism.
It is basically a bit of a copy of an old master, but it’s so convincing and so beautiful. In fact, its controversy has brought much attention to the Wynne. The Wynne has always sat in the shadow of the Archibald, but at last people are also talking about the Wynne.
There’s a wonderful connection between the winner of the Archibald, Sam Leach, and our gallery. Sam Leach also won our own gallery’s national art prize called EMSLA, being an acronym for The Eutick Memorial Still Life Award. EMSLA is now in its fourth year, and when Sam entered four years ago, he entered two works – and they were spectacular works. Naturally, one of them took first prize, and we were so enchanted by the second work that the gallery purchased it. I’m so pleased we did, because we certainly couldn’t afford to buy it now!
Our star has risen to an international degree, and he’s also a good friend to our gallery. We’re anticipating that he’ll be coming up and even running a workshop at the gallery for other painters; that will happen a little bit later in the year.
So Sam is coming up to the gallery, and we’ve got all kinds of things planned while the Archibald is here. We’ll be opening every single day that the Archibald is here. We open on a Monday night, because that’s the first night we will have it installed – and we don’t want our public to miss a moment of the Archibald.
> Describe the works that will make up the exhibition?
All the works are coming except one. There is one work that isn’t travelling at all and it’s not going to any gallery, because it’s just too big, heavy and unwieldy. It’s a work by Craig Ruddy called ‘The Prince of Darkness – Warwick Thornton’. That one we don’t get, but we get every single other work. And what works there are!
There’s a Nick Stathopoulos work titled ‘The bequest’, which is a naked man covered in tattoos. It’s very engaging.
Cherry Hood, known as a great portrait artist, has presented a wonderful painting of Michael Zavros – another artist, whom I think is based in Queensland.
There’s a great range of celebrities as well. There’s a very tongue in cheek work by Alexander Giles titled ‘The alternative ambassadors (Professors Ross Garnaut & Martin Green)’.
So many people will also recognise a major portrait called ‘Glenn in black and white’, Glenn being the musicologist Glenn A Baker. It’s a great portrait and is very much like the man himself.
This exhibition has all kinds of styles, with some quite abstract portraits right through to photo realism. It’s a very colourful show, a big show, with some very interesting subjects and some very well painted subjects.
> What is your favourite piece?
That’s so hard! I think perhaps one of my favourites would be a portrait of Bill Wright by Jasper Knight. It’s fabulous! It’s inky, it’s painted and it’s more like a line drawing with bits of text stuck over the sitter’s face. It’s quite good.
I also love the portrait of Adam Cullen by Nigel Milsom. It’s black, it’s quirky, it’s weird and it’s a little bit left of centre.
There’s also a perfectly nice painting of Kate Ceberano. It’s a convincing portrait that I think captures the woman. It’s not terribly exciting, but it’s a very nice painting none the less.
But my absolute favourite is, of course, the winner! I think it was so well deserved. It’s a wonderful portrait of Tim Minchin by Sam Leach. It’s much smaller than you would imagine, but it’s beautifully articulated.
> What is the gallery doing for the launch of the Archibald Prize exhibition?
We’re going to have a very splashy opening. There’s going to be extreme entertainment … and that’s as much as you can get from me! It’s a very big secret, and we’ve all signed contracts in blood to keep quiet about what will unfold.
It’s going to be a ticketed event and people can book at the gallery. It’s only $20, and that will include refreshments. Tickets will be limited, so we’re urging people to book early to make sure they don’t miss out.
The exhibition will run from Monday 4 right through to 27 October. The gallery will be open every day of the exhibition, including weekends, and we’re going to do some art after dark if there is enough interest.
If people want to round up large groups, then I will open up the gallery at night as well.
> Thank you Leigh.
The Archibald Prize will be on display from the 4 to 27 October. For further information, contact Leigh Summers on 6648 4860.