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The fact that The Archibald Prize is judged by the AGNSW board of trustees, not a team of art experts, introduces a random element into the process. Sometimes they seem to give the prize to the artist rather than the painting; like when Russell Crowe should have won the Oscar for LA Confidential and the Academy gave it to him later for Gladiator. No doubt someone was running a book on the annual award for portraiture with odds that will have paid off for the right punter. It’s almost impossible to predict who will win the Archie.

Art critics Andrew Frost (an Art Guide regular) and John McDonald both made much the same point in their recent articles in The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald respectively. Frost hedged his bets and picked three possible winners, McDonald had one clear favourite, but freely admitted that who would win was anyone’s guess.

This year the prize went to Yvette Coppersmith for her Self-portrait, after George Lambert (who McDonald mentioned without tipping for the win). In this portrait the artist presents herself as a serious woman with a face worthy of Modigliani. Apparently New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was the artist’s first choice for sitter.

Before today’s announcement, the only thing that seemed certain was that Jamie Preisz was unlikely to win. The first-time finalist took out the packing room prize with his portrait of Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes posed as an ageing prize fighter. The top prize and the packing room prize rarely (if ever) go to the same artist. 

The 2018 Wynne Prize, which is awarded to either a landscape painting or a figurative sculpture, went to Yukultji Napangati for an untitled painting of her country in Western Australia. 

The Sulman Prize includes works which can be described as subject paintings, genre paintings or mural projects. This year the award went to Kaylene Whiskey for her painting, Kaylene TV, in which Cher and Dolly strut their stuff in an Aussie lounge room.

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize 2018 Exhibition
Art Gallery of New South Wales
12 May – 9 September

Tracey Clement