The annual Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize (WSSP) attracts an enormous number of entries (over 600 this year) and brings together a collection of finalists from the preeminent to the lesser known. The 46 finalists in 2016 include established artists, such as Julie Rrap, Stephen Benwell and Rose Nolan, alongside early career artists including Yioryios and David Capra.
Each freestanding sculpture must measure under 80cm in any direction, and when a work cannot rely on large scale for impact it must be successful in more subtle and thoughtful ways.
Emerging Melbourne-based artist Cyrus Tang, a 2016 finalist, explains that it was a combination of elements that drew her to enter the WSSP. “When they announced the judges this year, I really wanted them to look at my work. So I wanted to apply even if I didn’t get in as a finalist,” she says. “Also previous finalists have really appealed to me, I have really liked a lot of the work.”
As a mixed media artist, Tang does not always make sculpture, but she had recently created a body of work using encyclopaedias from the 1950s. The format of this new series sat well within the scale and medium restrictions of the award.
Established Sydney and Blackheath-based artist Joan Ross, a finalist in the WSSP for the fourth time in 2016, explains that working within restrictions can drive and focus creativity. “Entering an art prize can be a bit of an experiment: here are the restrictions, what comes up for you? It’s a little task you set yourself, and it provides structure, which I like.”
Ross is best known for her videos and prints, so the prize also acts as a platform for her to exhibit different kinds of work. Prizes like the WSSP are also opportunities to reach new audiences. As Ross says, “I always think you need to get out there and challenge yourself as much as you can.”
The Australian art calendar is peppered with dozens of awards, with a wide spectrum of popularity and prestige. Longevity, prize money and calibre of judges tend to play important roles in determining the hierarchy. In its 20th year, the total prize money for the WSSP is $19,000, and the $15,000 first prize is acquisitive. In 2016 the entries were reviewed by guest judges Wendy Whiteley OAM; Rhonda Davis, the Senior Curator at Macquarie University Art Gallery; and Barry Keldoulis who is CEO and Group Fairs Director of Art Fairs Australia.
This year Sydney-based artist Todd Robinson took out the $15,000 main prize with his Psychic Staircase in which a balloon seems to collapse under its own weight. Sculptures by all 46 finalists are on show until 30 October.