Geelong Gallery hosts Australia’s favourite art award and one of its most prestigious

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Geelong Gallery hosts Australia’s favourite art award and one of its most prestigious

What is it about the illustrious Archibald Prize that makes the inner voyeur in us all secretly dance? Is it the familiarity of the celebrity, sportsman and distinguished ladies and gentlemen of our culture, that inspire ownership of opinion? We all love to stare back at someone we know, and in 2017 we get to do it on our own turf, as Geelong Gallery is the exclusive Victorian venue set to host The Archibald Prize from October 28 to December 10.

Director of Geelong Gallery, Jason Smith, has been central in this co-ordination and believes the benefits for Geelong are abundant. “One of the things I feel confident about is that because of the fame of this exhibition and because of the fact that everyone likes to form an opinion about portraiture, it’s going to be one of those great events that just further galvanises the city,” he says.

Beginning in 1921, the acclaimed Archibald Prize has engaged art-lovers across the country, often remembered for its controversy and debate around the considerations of portraiture: should artists aspire to likeness or character revelation? With a firm belief that “It’s such a venerable tradition, and it tests painters, portraiture is not easy” Smith reveals, “It’s a painting prize, it’s not about looking at just a photographic representation, you have to ask the question – What has this artist done to this sitter?”

Dobell challenged conventions first in 1943, and shifted the conservative parameters of portraiture with his depiction of fellow artist Joshua Smith. Winning two Archibald Prizes in the 1976 and 1978, Brett Whitley again challenged conventions, first with a self-portrait that was merely a reflection in a hand-held mirror among a vast studio of blue; and secondly a triptych exploring three related yet highly controversial issues. For this reason, among many others, The Archibald Prize has been extremely attractive to the masses.

“I think any exhibition that has had such a long history and, in the course of its history has been mired in such controversy, has over the decades just fired people’s imaginations,” Smith explains.

There will be 43 portraits exhibited this year, including the 2017 Archibald Prize winner Mitch Cairns who won for his portrait of his partner and artist Agatha Gothe-Snape , and Peter Smeeth’s portrait of Lisa Wilkinson AM which took home the Packing Room Prize. The ANZ People’s Choice award is still yet to be revealed, and Smith, while not discounting several other entries, mentions: “I’m going to be intrigued because it is a pretty wide range, I’ve got a feeling that the portrait of Gillian Triggs might appeal to people.”

Smith is also capitalising on the visiting crowd. “The very best of Geelong’s collection will be the very first thing that people will through and walk past to see the Archibald,” he says, and this exhibition is no doubt going to set the heart of Geelong alight. With a huge range of public programs, two absolute musts include:

The ‘Little Creatures after Dark’, which will see each Friday evening during The Archibald Prize 2017, the Geelong Gallery open for exclusive evening viewings from 6pm – 9pm. Geelong Galleries Pop Up Café and Bar will be open until 8.30pm.

‘Lectures at the Dome’, which will run each Saturday from 11am, allowing the public to hear an engaging series of conversations with The Archibald Prize 2017 Finalists and their sitters and invited guests.

After the success of The Fred Williams exhibition, the Geelong Gallery is continuing to conquer the greats, be sure not to miss this amazing array of artists and form your own opinion on those we love, fear and revere.

Entry fees and more info available via

Written by Alexandra Forssman